BA Chinese and Japanese / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Buddhism in Japan

Course unit fact file
Unit code JAPA33082
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
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.


Available on: Japanese Studies programme


  • 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


Employability skills

Analytical skills
Students taking this unit will be able to analyse and evaluate both existing literature on the material studied and the primary set materials themselves. Above all, committed students will emerge from this course unit with an advanced capacity to think critically, i.e. knowledgeably, rigorously, confidently and independently.
Project management
Students taking this unit will be able to work towards deadlines, work independently and to manage their time effectively.
Students on this unit will be required to digest, summarise and present large amounts of information. They are encouraged to enrich their responses and arguments with a wide range of further reading.
Written communication
Students on this unit will develop their ability to communicate a coherent and critical argument of depth and complexity in written form and to write in a way that is lucid, precise and compelling. The will also present their findings orally and develop their ability to address questions in interviews.

Assessment methods

Assessment task  

Formative or Summative 


Weighting within unit (if summative) 

Class presentation  





Essay (week 11) 










MA Level: 

1 x essay, focusing on one of the topics covered in the module 




Feedback methods

Feedback method Formative or Summative
Feedback on essay plan and oral presentation Summative
Written feedback for oral presentation Summative
Written feedback for essay Summative
Additional one-to-one feedback (during the consultation hour or by making an appointment) Formative
Written feedback for final exam Summative


Recommended reading

  1. Ambros, Barbara Women in Japanese Religions. (New York and London: New York University Press, 2015), 
  2. Covell, Stephen G.    Japanese Temple Buddhism: Worldliness in a Religion of Renunciation (University of Hawaii Press)
  3. Rowe, Mark Bonds of The Dead: Temples, Burial and the Transformation of Contemporary Japanese Buddhism (Hawai‘i University press 2011)
  4. Starling, Jessica, Guardians of the Buddha’s Home: Domestic Religion in the Contemporary J¿do Shinsh¿ (University of Hawai’i Press, 2019), 
  5. Thomas, Jolyon B. Drawing on Tradition: Manga, Anime, and Religion in Contemporary Japan (Hawai‘i University press 2012)
  6. William E. Deal, Brian Ruppert, A Cultural History of Buddhism (Wiley, 2015)
  7. Williams, Duncan R. The Other side of Zen. A social History of S¿t¿ Zen Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan. (Princeton University press, 2005)

Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Tim Graf Unit coordinator

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