Kenyon College homepage Asian Studies Program
Joseph Adler 

Asia 490: Senior Seminar

Prof. Joseph Adler

Fall 2000

Ascension 310

Tues. 7:30-10:00


Davis House

PBX 5290

Office hours: MTW 3-4

The topic of the senior seminar this year will be the social, economic, and cultural aspects of Buddhism throughout Asia. As one of the major connective links among the varied cultures of South, Southeast, and East Asia for over two millennia, Buddhism has reflected and influenced cultural change on a wide variety of levels. The seminar will focus on Buddhism's role in intra-Asian trade, urbanization, the construction of identity (personal, national, and trans-national), conceptions of power (numinous, political, and economic), and conceptions of order (cosmic, spiritual, and temporal). Specific topics will include Buddhist cosmology, notions of kingship (the cakravartin and the dharmaraja), the Buddhist community (sangha) and the wider social order, missionary activity, pilgrimage, commerce, the confluence of spiritual and political power in Tibet, and the ways in which religious and mundane phenomena can be mutually conditioned.


Available in Bookstore:

  • Heinz Bechert and Richard Gombrich, eds., The World of Buddhism: Buddhist Monks and Nuns in Society and Culture (Thames and Hudson, 1991)
  • Burton Watson, trans., The Lotus Sutra (Columbia, 1993)
  • Jerry H. Bentley, Old World Encounters: Cross-cultural Contacts and Exchanges in Pre-modern Times (Oxford, 1993)
  • Xinru Liu, Ancient India and Ancient China: Trade and Religious Exchanges, AD 1-600 (Oxford, 1988)
  • Donald K. Swearer, Buddhism and Society in Southeast Asia (SUNY, 1995)

On Course Reserve:

  • Richard H. Robinson and Willard L. Johnson, The Buddhist Religion: A Historical Introduction, 4th ed.
  • Martin W. Lewis and Karen E. Wigen, The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography
  • Andre Gunder Frank, The Centrality of Central Asia
  • Susan Whitfield, Life Along the Silk Road
  • Eleanor Mannikka, Angkor Wat: Time, Space, and Kingship

Requirements and grading:

  1. Participation (25% of course grade). The success of a seminar depends on the active participation of all members. Attendance at all meetings is required, unless you have a legitimate excuse and inform me about it beforehand. You are expected to have read the assigned material, to participate in regular seminar discussion, and to give clear oral presentations of written essays.
  2. Two short papers (5-10 pages) and oral reports, Oct. 3 and Oct. 31 (20% each). The oral report will count 1/3 of the grade.
  3. Term paper (15-20 pages) and oral report (35%). The oral report will count 1/4 of the grade.

    Diamond Sutra
    The world's oldest dated printed book (868 C.E.):
    copy of the Diamond Sutra found at Dunhuang, China,
    the eastern terminus of the Silk Routes.

    Seminar Schedule

    1.   Aug 29   Introduction: Asia as a geographical / cultural construct
    Questions to think about:

    How do we define and understand Asia? Given its diversity, is Asia really a coherent entity? Or is it coherent only because others (i.e. we) posit it as what we are not? Is "Asia" just a cultural construction of Euro-Americans? To what extent do Asians nowadays also perpetuate or challenge stereotypes about Asia? How have Asians "constructed" Asia?

    2.   Sep 5 Buddhism: India
      Read: Bechert and Gombrich, Buddhism, Foreword, Introduction, chs. 1-2
    3.   Sep 12   Afghanistan, Central Asia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia
      Read: Buddhism, chs. 3-7
    4.   Sep 19   China, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Tibet
      Read: Buddhism, chs. 8-10
    5.   Sep 26   The Lotus Sutra
      Read: The Lotus Sutra
    6.   Oct 3   Reports on Buddhism in various regions

    -- October break --

    7.   Oct 17   Metageography
      Read: Lewis and Wigen, The Myth of Continents, Intro, chs. 1-2
    8.   Oct 24   The Silk Routes
      Read: Old World Encounters, pp. 3-89
        "The Silk Road," by Oliver Wild
    9.   Oct 31   Reports on the Silk Routes

    10.   Nov 7   Trade and Mahayana Ideology and Symbolism 
      Read: Liu, Ancient India and Ancient China, pp. 1-102
    11.   Nov 14   Trade and Buddhist Institutions
      Read: Liu, Ancient India and Ancient China, pp. 103-182

    -- Thanksgiving vacation --

    12.   Nov 28   Sacred Power and Sacred Order in Theravada Buddhism
      Read: Swearer, The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia, chs. 1-2
    13.   Dec 5   Modern Buddhism
      Read: Bechert and Gombrich, Buddhism, ch. 11
        Swearer, The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia, ch. 3
    14.   Dec 12   Term paper reports

    Pagoda 2 Buddhas Sakyamuni and Prabhutaratna seated in the jeweled stupa, from the Lotus Sutra (4th-century bronze image).

    Edit date: 9/14/00