Buddhist Studies

Buddhist Studies

Buddhist Studies, also known as Buddhology, is the academic study of Buddhism. The term applies especially to the modern academic field, which is a subset of Religious Studies, and is distinct from Buddhist theology. As with Religious Studies in general, scholars of Buddhist Studies represent a variety of disciplines including history, anthropology, and philosophy.

In contrast to the study of Judaism or Christianity, the field of Buddhist Studies has been dominated by "outsiders" to Buddhist cultures and traditions. (However, Japanese universities have also made major contributions, as have Asian immigrants to Western countries, and Western converts to Buddhism). This raises important questions of colonialism (cf. Edward Said's book Orientalism, although its focus is the Middle East).


Geographical "Schools"

Charles Prebish writes that:

:...geographic associations seem to identify at least two 'schools' of Buddhology: the Anglo-German and the Franco-Belgian. The former (and older) was led by Thomas W. Rhys-Davids and Hermann Oldenberg, while the latter included primarily Louis de La Vallée Puissin, Jean Przyluski, Sylvain Lévi, Paul Demiéville, and Étiene Lamotte. To these schools, Edward Conze, quite reasonably, adds a third: the Leningrad school, including Stcherbatsky, Rosenberg, and Obermiller. The Anglo-German school almost exclusively emphasized the Pali literary tradition, while the Franco-Belgian school utilized the Sanskritic materials, along with their corresponding translations and commentaries in Chinese and Tibetan. The Leningrad school is clearly closer to the Franco-Belgian school than the Anglo-German. These are general classifications, but they nonetheless capture the style of the traditions as they have been maintained over the last century. [ Prebish, p. 185. ]

Prebish goes on to discuss developments in the USA:

:Although some might consider Eugène Burnouf the founding father of Buddhist Studies as a discipline, the beginnings of Buddhist Studies in the United States seem inextricably bound to three primary individuals: Paul Carus, Henry Clarke Warren, and Charles Rockwell Lanman. [...] Despite the work of these early educators, it was not until after 1960 that Buddhist Studies began to emerge as a significant discipline in the American university system and publishing industry. During the Vietnam War years and immediately thereafter, Buddhist Studies was to enjoy a boom, largely through the efforts of such leading professors as Richard Hugh Robinson of the University of Wisconsin, Masatoshi Nagatomi of Harvard University, and Alex Wayman of Columbia University. No doubt there were many reasons for the increased development of Buddhist Studies, not the least of which were the increase in area studies programs in American universities; growing government interest in things Asian; the immense social anomie that permeated American culture in the 1960's; and the growing dissatisfation with (and perhaps rejection of) traditional religion. [ Prebish, pp. 185-187. ]

Donald Lopez emphasizes the influence of Geshe Lhundup Sopa at Wisconsin, and Jeffrey Hopkins at Virginia. [ "Prisoners of Shangri-La," p. tk ]

University Programs and Institutes

Prebish cites two surveys by Hart in which the following university programs were found to have produced the most scholars with U.S. university posts: Chicago, Wisconsin, Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Virginia, Stanford, Berkeley, Princeton, Temple, Northwestern, Michigan, Washington, and Tokyo. [ Prebish, p. 194.]

Other regionally-accredited U.S. institutions with programs in Buddhism include the University of the West, Institute of Buddhist Studies, Naropa University, and the California Institute of Integral Studies. (A number of dharma centers offer semi-academic, unaccredited study; some of these seem likely eventually to win accreditation.)

Prominent European programs include Oxford and Cambridge, SOAS, the universities of Humbolt and Bonn, and the Sorbonne. In Asia, Tokyo University has long been a major center for Buddhist research.

Professional Associations


Journals specializing in Buddhist Studies, or some aspect thereof::*"Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies":*"Journal of Buddhist Literature":*"Journal of Buddhist Ethics":*"Buddhist and Tibetan Studies"

In addition, many scholars publish in journals devoted to area studies (such as Japan, China, etc.), general Religious Studies, or disciplines such as history or anthropology.

Major university presses that have published in the field include those of Oxford, Cambridge, Indiana, Princeton, SUNY, and the Universities of California, Michigan, Chicago, Hawaii, and Virginia. Non-university presses include Curzon Press, E.J. Brill, Asian Humanities Press, and Motilal Banarsidass. A number of scholars have published through "dharma presses" such as Snow Lion Publications, Wisdom Publications, or Shambhala.


* Lopez, Donald S., Jr. (ed.) "Curators of the Buddha." University of Chicago Press, 1995.
* Prebish, Charles. "The Academic Study of Buddhism in America: A Silent "Sangha"." Chapter Eleven of "American Buddhism: Methods and Findings in Recent Scholarship" (Duncan Ryuken Williams and Christopher S. Queen, eds.). Curzon Press: Surrey (UK), 1999. Pp. 183-214

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.