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Buddhist Studies

 Buddhist temple in Seoul, Korea

A minor in Buddhist studies is an excellent adjunct to majors in such fields as religion, philosophy, American studies, anthropology, art history, Asian studies, comparative literature, East Asian languages and literature, East Asian studies, and the study of women and gender. It allows for a deeper focus in Buddhism, offering an interdisciplinary complement to your major as well as an important credential for graduate admissions.


BUS 120 The Study of Buddhism is required of all Buddhist studies minors. Twenty-four additional credit hours may be drawn from at least two disciplines, including anthropology, art history, literature, philosophy, religion and sociology, or others where appropriate, chosen in consultation with your minor adviser.

At least eight credits in the minor must be taken at Smith; up to 12 credits of overseas study may be counted. The minor requires one seminar addressing a topic in Buddhist studies.

You should study Buddhism as it is practiced in at least two of the following four geographical areas: South and Southeast Asia, East Asia, the Tibeto-Himalayan region and the West.

The minor should comprise study of both classical and contemporary Buddhism.

Buddhist studies relies on linguistic competence, and students who intend to pursue graduate studies in Buddhist studies are strongly encouraged to study languages; however, language study is not required for the minor.

A maximum of eight credits toward the minor may be satisfied by the study of a language relevant to Buddhist studies (to be approved by your minor adviser). This language might be a canonical language, or a modern language that facilitates research in Buddhism. Credit for language will only be given for courses at the second-year level or above.


Courses offered at Smith College in the fall semester 2019 which can be counted as electives in the Buddhist studies minor can be found at the Smith College Registrar's Course Search page.  Spring 2020 course offerings will be available for viewing by mid-May, 2019.  

There are also many Buddhism-related courses offered throughout the Five Colleges. You can use the Five College Course Guide to find current offerings.

Smith College Professor Jay Garfield and Central Michigan University Professor Guy Newland have recorded an online course for Wisdom Academy, The Three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma. The course, over ten lessons, provides students with

  • a solid grounding in the core teachings of Buddhist philosophy;
  • an overview of important texts and philosophers from across Buddhist traditions;
  • a comprehensive, unified vision of the Buddha’s teachings;
  • how ethics and metaphysics relate to each other.

Smith College students, faculty and community members can log in and access the course content free of charge.  

Buddhist Writers Series

Putting Pen to Palm Leaf: Buddhism and Contemporary Literature

In 2018-2019, we are excited to welcome a series of visitors focused on Buddhism and contemporary literature, called “Putting Pen to Palm Leaf: Buddhism and Contemporary Literature.”  This series will bring four eminent writers whose work explores or is inflected by themes deriving from Buddhism to Smith and the Five Colleges for one to two week visits to share their ideas and practice with our students, faculty and the wider community.

Each visitor will stay for one to two weeks and each will:

  • Present a public lecture;
  • Give a public reading from her or his writing;
  • Offer a faculty session of a Smith College Kahn Liberal Arts Institute short-term project to be distributed over the four visits;
  • Offer a student seminar, with credit available to students who participate in all four classes with visiting writers and some supplementary sessions and who register for a Buddhist Studies Program special studies course;
  • Present work at a meeting of the Five College Buddhist Studies Faculty Seminar;
  • Make class visits.

Complete schedule information for each visitor is found at right.   

Norman Fischer
Zoketsu Norman Fischer, American poet, writer, and Zen priest. Norman Fischer served as co-abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center from 1995–2000, after which he founded the Everyday Zen Foundation in 2000, a network of Buddhist practice groups and related projects in Canada, the United States and Mexico.  Fischer has published more than twenty-five books of poetry and non-fiction, as well as numerous poems, essays and articles in Buddhist magazines and poetry journals. 

(All events take place at Smith College.)
Saturday, October 13, 9:30 a.m.–4 p.m., faculty seminar/workshop, Kahn Institute
Monday, October 15, 5 p.m., public lecture, Seelye 201: "Writing at Degree Zero"
Tuesday, October 16, 4–5 p.m., question and answer session, Poetry Center
Tuesday, October 16, 7:30 p.m., public reading from his work, Carroll Room, Campus Center
Wednesday, October 17, 8–9:30 p.m., student seminar, Seelye 106
Thursday, October 18, 5:30–7 p.m., Five College Buddhist Studies Faculty Seminar, Philosophy Lounge, Dewey

Ruth Ozeki
Ruth Ozeki, Grace Jarcho Ross 1933 Professor of Humanities, Smith College and award-winning author, filmmaker and Zen priest. Her best-selling novel A Tale for the Time Being (2013) won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her earlier novels, My Year of Meats (1998) and All Over Creation (2003), were both New York Times Notable Books. Her latest book, The Face: A Time Code, is a memoir, which was published in 2016 by Restless Books.  A longtime meditator, Ozeki was ordained in 2010 as a novice priest in the Soto Zen lineage.

(All events except for her reading take place at Smith College.)
Wednesday, November 7, 7:30 p.m., public reading from her work, Frost Library, CHI Think Tank, Amherst College 
Saturday, November 10, 9:30 a.m.–4 p.m., faculty seminar/workshop, Kahn Institute.
Monday, November 12, 5 p.m., public lecture, Seelye 201: "The Contemplative "I": Zen and the Art of Autobiographical Fiction"
Wednesday, November 14, 7–9 p.m., student seminar, Dewey Common
Thursday, November 15, 5:30–7 p.m., Five College Buddhist Studies Faculty Seminar, Philosophy Lounge, Dewey

Kate Lila Wheeler
Kate Lila Wheeler
, author of Nixon Under the Bodhi Tree and Other Works of Fiction, Not Where I Started From, and When Mountains Walked, among other books, has been practicing meditation for over 35 years.  During this time she has practiced intensively with a wide range of Buddhist masters in Asia, and was ordained briefly as a nun in Burma.   Kate began teaching in 1990, presently leads a Buddhist meditation practice group in Cambridge, Massachusetts in addition to traveling frequently to respond to teaching invitations from across the United States. 
(All events take place at Smith College.)
Thursday, March 28, 5:30–7 p.m., Five College Buddhist Studies Faculty Seminar, Philosophy Lounge, Dewey
Saturday, March 30, 9:30 a.m.– 4 p.m., faculty seminar/workshop, Kahn Institute
Monday, April 1, 5 p.m., public lecture, Seelye 201: "Some Remarks on Buddhist Fiction"
Tuesday, April 2, 7–9 p.m., student seminar, Dewey Common
Thursday, April 4, 5 p.m., Public reading from her novel Red Lotus, Seelye 201

Jane Hirshfield
Jane Hirshfield's eight books of poetry have received numerous awards. Her fifth book, Given Sugar, Given Salt, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. After was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize. Her eighth collection, The Beauty, was named a “best book of 2015” by The San Francisco Chronicle. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Academy of American Poets Fellowship for Distinguished Achievement, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and in 2012, the Donald Hall-Jane Kenyon Award in American Poetry.

(All events take place at Smith College.)
Tuesday, April 23, 4–5 p.m., question and answer session, Poetry Center
Tuesday, April 23, 7:30 p.m., public reading from her work, Weinstein Auditorium
Wednesday, April 24, 6 p.m., public lecture, Weinstein Auditorium: " A Branch of Yellow Leaves: Buddhism, The World, & Poetry"
Wednesday, April 24, 7:30–9:30 p.m., faculty seminar/workshop, Kahn Institute
Thursday, April 25, 3-5 p.m., student seminar, Dewey Common
Thursday, April 25, 5:30–7 p.m., Five College Buddhist Studies Faculty Seminar, Philosophy Lounge, Dewey

Sponsored by Smith College’s Buddhist Studies Program, Ada Howe Kent Fund, Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, English Department, Kahn Liberal Arts Institute, Poetry Center, and Religion Department; Amherst College; Mount Holyoke College; Hampshire College; and Five Colleges Inc.


Featured Event

There are no events scheduled at this time.

Keep up-to-date on the latest news, events and opportunities in Buddhist studies by signing up for our email list. Contact Phoebe McKinnell for more information.  You can also check out the Buddhist studies Facebook page for the latest information on events, photos and more.  

Faculty Seminar

The Five College Buddhist Studies faculty, along with interested scholars from other institutions in the area, meets three or four times each semester to discuss precirculated, in-progress work of seminar members or of invited scholars.

For a list of recent seminars, see here.  

If you are interested in participating in our seminar, please send an email to Andy Rotman.

Five College Certificate

The Five Colleges provide an excellent environment in which to study Buddhism, with one of the largest concentrations of scholars of Buddhist studies in the United States. Collectively, we enable students to study most of the major Buddhist traditions. In addition to junior year abroad and other extended study programs in Asia, our academic exchange program with the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in India offers a unique opportunity for our students to study with eminent Tibetan scholars.

The Five College Buddhist Studies Certificate might be pursued in conjunction with a major in philosophy, religious studies, anthropology, Asian studies or another field to which Buddhist studies is directly relevant. However, it might also be used to support studies in a very different field, such as law, one of the social sciences, or studies in the arts or humanities. Students who enter this program will benefit from the structure it provides and from advising by program faculty, enabling them to take full advantage of the resources offered in the Pioneer Valley beyond their individual colleges.

Language Study & Study Abroad

Students of Buddhist studies are strongly encouraged to study abroad, particularly in Asia where Buddhism has a long history. Learning about Buddhism within a Buddhist environment can be an enriching experience, offering an important counterpart to your studies here on campus.

There are excellent Interterm, summer, semester and yearlong programs that allow for a deep immersion in Buddhist religion, philosophy, art and culture. There are also many intensive language programs that can facilitate your study of Buddhism, regardless of your academic discipline. If you are interested in studying abroad, please contact a faculty member to discuss your options. You are also encouraged to visit the Office for International Study for a complete listing of approved programs.

Some possible programs include:

Antioch Program in Buddhist Studies
Antioch Education Abroad offers well established semester programs in India and Japan in Buddhist studies.

Associated Kyoto Program
AKP is a two-semester study abroad program at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, sponsored by a consortium of American colleges and universities, including Smith. Students study the Japanese language intensively and take courses in English on Japan, mainly in the humanities and social sciences.

Emory Tibetan Studies Program
Situated in the foothills of the Himalayas and home to H.H. the Dalai Lama, Dharamsala is the cultural and intellectual capital of the Tibetan exile community. The program integrates academic study, traditional Buddhist pedagogy and field research.

Himalayan Health Exchange
Summer Study Abroad: This program is very comprehensive and provides an unforgettable and highly productive learning experience for students of anthropology as well as other disciplines.

ISLE Program
The ILSE Program offers study abroad programs for either spring or fall semester in Kandy, Sri Lanka, where students can study religion, material culture and other subjects.

The Jamyang Foundation
The Jamyang Foundation (Education for Buddhist Women, through Karma Lekshe Tsomo) needs volunteers and interns for their programs in the Himalaya area.

Kathmandu University Centre for Buddhist Studies at Rangjung Yeshe Institute
The Centre for Buddhist Studies hosts study-abroad programs for visiting students in Buddhist philosophy and language and conducts intensive summer programs in Tibetan, Sanskrit, Nepali and Buddhist studies.

SIT offers a wide variety of programs in many countries, including India: Himalayan Buddhist Art and Architecture; Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples; and Mongolia: Nomadic Culture and Globalization.

South Asia Summer Language Institute
SASLI is dedicated to training students, faculty and professionals in the languages of South Asia.

Summer Language Institute
The Summer Language Institute of the University of Virginia offers language instruction in Tibetan and Chinese.

Summer Language Study in India
The American Institute of Indian Studies offers summer language study of Sanskrit and Pali/Prakrit at Deccan College in Pune, Maharastra.

Templestay is an organization that lets participants experience the life of Buddhist practitioners at traditional temples that preserve the 1,700-year-old history of Korean Buddhism.

Willing Workers on Organic Farms
WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) is a worldwide network of organic farms that provide room and board in exchange for work related to organic farming. Programs are available in India, Nepal, China, Taiwan, Japan and more.

Woodenfish Project
Woodenfish Project offers students a chance to experience life in a monastery at Fo Guang Shan monastery in Taiwan during two months every summer.


Subul Sunim Prize

The Subul Sunim Prize is awarded annually for the best academic paper written for a class taken at Smith on a subject in the field of Buddhist studies. Smith undergraduates as well as those in the Five Colleges are eligible.

2019 Recipient

  • Levy S. Singleton '19, "The Legend of Chojohime: Weaving the Pure Land into the Japanese Buddhist Landscape"

To apply, submit a printed copy of the paper together with the required cover sheet to Phoebe McKinnell, Wright Hall 106, by noon on the last day of classes in the spring semester. Winners are notified by the dean of the college in writing and are announced on Commencement weekend at the Ivy Day Awards Convocation and at Opening Convocation in the fall.

Religion Prizes

The Department of Religion has several prizes for essays in religious studies. See the religion website for more information.




Buddhist Studies

Wright Hall 106
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

Phone: 413-585-3662

Administrative Assistant:
Phoebe McKinnell