ASST 278
Buddhist Material Culture: Objects of Practice and Merit Spring 2019 Division II; Difference, Power, and Equity; Cross-listed as REL278 / ASST278

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What is material culture? What is considered Buddhist material culture? If Buddhism is a tradition that encourages non-attachment, then what is meant by “Buddhist material culture”? Shouldn’t Buddhists be “free” from material things? Is it necessary for a Buddhist to be free from material things or rather that material things should be free from Buddhists? This course will introduce students to a material culture approach to the study of religion, which acknowledges the agency of not only humans but also the agency of objects/things/stuff, and it emphasizes relationships and networks between people and things. The course will begin with basic foundational theories that make up the burgeoning field of “material culture” within Religious Studies. We focus on various relationships: “internal” (our body and senses in relation to things) and “external” (things themselves, and their connections to other things). We will learn about these relationships by looking closely at Buddhist “stuff” and investigating what such relationships can tell us about Buddhism. Things act upon us, and we (re)act upon them. They shape identity, create meaning, and maintain relationships. We will learn that things are never just things. They help us better understand what people do in Buddhism, not just what people believe. In a nutshell, this course is about the “social life of [Buddhist] things”. For students without a background in Buddhism, this course will introduce them to Buddhism as lived in China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, and particularly Southeast Asia.
The Class: Type: seminar
Limit: 19
Expected: 10
Class#: 3957
Requirements/Evaluation: Attendance and active participation: 15%; Short Writing Assignments, 8 total (1 page): 25%; Midterm Exam (in-class): 25%; Group Presentation of Object: 35%
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preference: Religion and Asian Studies majors
Distributions: Division II; Difference, Power, and Equity;
Distribution Notes: DPE: The material world of contemporary Buddhism is often condemned for "adulterating" "real" Buddhism because it does not fit stereotypical buzzwords like tranquil, austere, non-commercial. Yet, materiality is essential to Asian Buddhist practitioners, who are the 90%. Students will hone skills to seek the unseen by tracing networks of a New Materialism approach, which can reveal relationships that demonstrate power struggle and inequality, even within a "loving-kindness" tradition like Buddhism.

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