REL 275
Buddhist Material Culture Fall 2022
Division II
Cross-listed ANTH 275 / REL 275 / ASIA 275

Class Details

You’ve heard of the “material girl”(or boy), but what about the material Buddhist? What 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 that they have to be? This course encourages students to look beyond modernist ideals of Buddhism as merely a rational tradition about monks, manuscripts, and mindfulness. In this course, students are encouraged to take Buddhist “stuff”, material culture, seriously. This course offers: (1) an introduction to the core concepts of Buddhism; (2) a brief overview of theories of material religion, or the “material turn” in the study of religion; and (3) a sampling of the vast material- and spiritual worlds of Buddhist Asia, particularly China, Korea, Japan, Thailand and Myanmar. We begin by decolonializing Buddhism. Then, we trace the Humanities trend of the past couple decades that prioritizes material investigations that acknowledge the agency of not only humans but also that of objects/things/stuff. These theories also emphasize networks–among people, things, and spirits. We look 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. By the end of the semester, students will have a basic understanding of Buddhist concepts, will learn to value Buddhist material culture, and will be able to apply social theories of religion and things. 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: lecture
Limit: 20
Expected: 12
Class#: 1619
Grading: no pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: midterm exam; Four quizzes; final project presentation and encyclopedic essay (1,000 words)
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: majors ANSO, REL, or concentrators in Asian Studies
Distributions: Division II
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
ANTH 275 Division II REL 275 Division II ASIA 275 Division II

Class Grid

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