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Buddhism Through Its Scriptures
Module Three in the World Religions Through Their Scriptures Series
HDS 3221.3x
Professor Charles Hallisey
Harvard Divinity School
Course Description:
Whether you are new to the study of religion or the study of Buddhism or you have been studying it and/or practicing it for years, this course will provide you with the opportunity to become acquainted with a variety of Buddhist scriptures while guiding you to think about them—their contents as well as their places in Buddhist life-- in new ways.
Through a combination of carefully selected readings, both scriptural and informational, as well as exposure to various forms of Buddhist practice such as meditation, art, devotional acts, and literary works, you will also learn how to interpret, reflect upon, and connect Buddhist scriptures to your own life and deepen your understanding of the the world as well as of Buddhism in the process.
What You’ll Learn:
  • The range and diversity of Buddhist scriptures
  • Religious/philosophical insights conveyed in Buddhist texts
  • How scriptures are interpreted to diverse ends in different historical contexts
  • Sensitive appreciation of world religions
Expectations and Assessments
  • Engaging in all components of each day comprised of videos, readings, and exercises: 35%
  • Regularly contributing to discussions and responding to peers: 35%
  • A mid-term assessment assignment: 15%
  • A final assessment assignment: 15%
Certificate candidates must complete at least 80% of expectations.
One of the main reasons that I wanted to offer this course in this venue is to provide an opportunity for people from diverse backgrounds—whether by religions, by experiences, by ages, by cultures, by race, class, and gender-- to interact constructively around topics that too often divide us.  As a result, the course is highly interactive in nature.  You’ll have many opportunities to engage with others in the course through discussion boards.  We hope many of you will take advantage of this unique opportunity to converse with others from around the world in response to the rich material we’ll be exploring together.
Approach to the study of Buddhism:
Given this goal, I want to highlight here at the outset that the approach to learning about Buddhism represented here is one that recognizes and values the diversity of beliefs and convictions within as well as among religions and worldviews. In this way, we obviously will not be promoting or privileging one interpretation or perspective over another, or asking which one interpretation or another is the "right" or "true" one.  Instead, we'll be exploring what gives rise to diverse interpretations, and how over the ages Buddhists themselves have expected diverse interpretations and applications of Buddhist scriptures.  In short, our explorations will be focused on seeking to better understand diverse perspectives rather than debating which ones are "credible."
When we turn to the Buddhist heritages for help in answering some questions that we bring to the study of Buddhist scriptures, we open ourselves to the possibility of not only learning about Buddhism, but also learning from Buddhism. This openness to learning from Buddhists is not in the sense of saying that a Buddhist interpretation is automatically the “right” interpretation.  Rather, it is to see that Buddhists themselves have thought about many of the same questions that we bring to Buddhist scriptures, and many of the same questions that we have about ourselves, as persons, and about this world in which we find ourselves. 
I know that all of you who have signed up for Buddhism Through Its Scriptures come with many motivations for study and many aspirations for yourselves, but I also trust that you will share my interest in learning from others, in being open to others helping you to see what you what you can’t see or what you missed, and I also trust that you will see the rich diversity of all of us in the class as one of its most important assets.  I also trust that all interactions via the discussion boards will be respectful and motivated by curiosity and a sincere interest in learning with and from one another. 
Course Syllabus
Week One:
Day One - Introduction, Refuge, and Reality
Day Two – Surveying the Canon
Week Two:
Day Three - Dealing with Inconsistencies
Day Four - Scriptures and Transformation
Mid-Term Assessment
Week Three:
Day Five – Scriptures and Experience
Day Six – Scriptures Entering the World Through Art
Week Four:
Day Seven – From the Inside Out:  Buddhist Scriptures On Other  Religions
Day Eight - How Buddhist Scriptures Have Changed
Final Assessment