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REL 278
Buddhist Material Culture: Objects of Practice and Merit Fall 2020
Division II
Cross-listed REL 278 / ASST 278

Class Details

You’ve heard of the “material girl” (or boy), but what about the material Buddhist? This course encourages students to look beyond modernist ideals of Buddhism as a rational tradition of monks, monasteries and manuscripts, merely advocating mindfulness. In this course, we take Buddhist “stuff” (material culture) seriously. We explore what exactly is material culture, and what makes it Buddhist? If Buddhism is supposed to be a tradition that encourages non-attachment, then what is meant by “Buddhist material culture”? Shouldn’t Buddhists be free of material things? Or, rather, who says they have to be? This course offers: (1) an introduction to the core concepts of Buddhism; (2) a brief overview of Material Religion, or the “material turn” in the study of religion; and (3) a preliminary exploration into the vast material- and spiritual worlds of Buddhist Asia, particularly China, Japan, Myanmar, Tibet, and Thailand. We begin by decolonializing Buddhism (think mandala, not only meditation; or ghosts and spirits, not just sutra). Next, we trace religious studies trends that privilege material investigations that acknowledge the agency of not only humans but also the agency of objects/things/stuff, and that emphasizes the dynamics among people, things, and spirits. We learn about these dynamics by looking closely at Buddhist stuff. 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. This course includes brief experiential components on Buddhist meditation and ritual. No prior experience in meditation or Buddhism is required. This course does not assume any previous background in Buddhism, Religion, Asian Studies, or Art History.
The Class: Format: seminar; This class is remote with a mix of synchronous and asynchronous requirements. Synchronous meetings are limited to once a week for roughly one hour (between 60-75 minutes). Many of our synchronous requirements will feature breakout sessions into small groups for intimate, peer exchanges, followed by discussions with the entire class. A few asynchronous sessions will require community-building with your peers through some form of work exchange or reflection related to the weekly topic.
Limit: 16
Expected: 12
Class#: 2690
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Attendance and active participation 25%; Short writing assignments 25% (one-page, single-space, critical response based on class reading x 4 total); Mid-term exam 25% (identification terms, short essay); Final project and presentation 25% (initial consultation with the instructor regarding topic selection, annotated bibliography and project outline, formal written report (4-5 single-space pages) , presentation, and final reflection)
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: Religion and Asian Studies majors
Distributions: Division II
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
REL 278 Division II ASST 278 Division II

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