Coronavirus information for applicants and offer-holders

We understand that prospective students and offer-holders may have concerns about the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. The University is following the advice from Universities UK, Public Health England and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Read our latest coronavirus information

BA Russian and Japanese

Year of entry: 2021

Course unit details:
Buddhism in Japan

Unit code JAPA33082
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Japanese Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The course will begin by outlining some of the main themes of Buddhism from its origins until the time it entered Japan. It will then examine key Buddhist sectarian traditions and teachings, and look at how these sectarian traditions interacted with state and society, discuss the role of charismatic and ascetic figures in the spreading and promotion of a popular, faith-oriented folk Buddhism and examine the main areas of popular practice that have been associated with and used by Buddhist temples in historical and modern contexts in Japan.  Finally it will assess the problems faced by Buddhism since 1945, discuss the various ways in which Buddhist institutions and individual priests are seeking to re-contextualise the tradition in line with modernity and changing circumstances, and will examine how this is impacting on, and is likely to affect, Buddhism in the longer term.



  • To provide students with a knowledge of the ways in which Buddhism has developed in Japan, especially in the modern (i.e. Meiji Restoration onwards) period and in conjunction with the processes of modernity and the rise of the modern state. 
  • to provide an understanding of Buddhism’s relationships with other religious traditions, its impact on Japanese culture,  its sectarian manifestations,  its popular realms of practice, and its various social roles in pre-modern and modern Japan.
  • to provide students with an awareness of the problems faced by Buddhism in the late 20th/early 21st centuries,  the ways in which Buddhist institutions are facing these problems, and the implications this has for Buddhism as a religious entity in Japan and beyond.


Knowledge and understanding

  • Gain a good knowledge and critical understanding of the main topics concerning the cultural history of Buddhism in Japan, especially in the modern era.
  • Gain an understanding of the continuities and discontinuities between modern and pre-modern Buddhism in   Japan.

Intellectual skills

  • Broaden intellectual interests and nurture cultural awareness for areas beyond English-speaking countries.
  • Read critically: evaluating information using critical and analytical thinking and judgment
  • Write analytically: gain exposure and practice in appropriate presentation and written skills related to a discipline or profession

Practical skills

  • Construct ideas and arguments from own research and apply knowledge to finding solutions to authentic real world problems.
  • Improve basic skills for academic writing, in particular reviewing academic literature.
  • Improve presentation skills

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Develop personal qualities of independence of mind in order to make ethical judgments.
  • Develop awareness that will enable students to confront their own values as global citizens


Assessment methods

Presentation         20%
Essay 40%
Exam        40%


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Feedback on essay plan and oral presentation


Written feedback for oral presentation


Written feedback for essay


Additional one-to-one feedback (during the consultation hour or by making an appointment)


Written feedback for final exam



Recommended reading

  1. Bowring, Richard   The Religious Traditions of Japan 500-1600  (Cambridge University Press)
  2. Breen, John and Mark Teeuwen (eds) Shinto in History: Ways of the Kami  (various essays relating to Buddhist-Shinto interactions) (Curzon)
  3. Covell, Stephen G.    Japanese Temple Buddhism: Worldliness in a Religion of Renunciation (University of Hawaii Press)
  4. Jaffe, Richard. (2002) Neither Monk nor Layman: Clerical marriage in modern Japanese Buddhism,  Princeton University Press.
  5. Ketelaar, James (1990) Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan: Buddhism and its Persecutions, (Princeton University Press).
  6. Lopez, Donald S. ed. (1995) Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism under Colonialism,  University of Chicago Press.
  7. McMullin, Neil  Buddhism and the State (Princeton University Press) 
  8. Pilgrim, Richard Buddhism and the Arts of Japan  (Columbia University Press)
  9. Reader, Ian  and George J.  Tanabe Practically Religious: Worldly benefits and the Common Religion of Japan,  1998   Ch 4 pp. 140-177 (University of Hawaii Press)
  10. Suzuki, D. T. (1959) Zen and Japanese Culture  Routledge, Kegan and Paul.
  11. Victoria, Brian. (1997) Zen at War (Weatherhill).

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Erica Baffelli Unit coordinator

Return to course details