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 Buddhist temple in Seoul, Korea

Buddhist Studies

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.

Department Update

Listen to podcasts created by Smith students 

Students in the spring 2022 course PHI 252 Buddhist Philosophy: Madyamaka and Yogācāra explored the applications of Buddhist philosophy outside of the classroom. They created a series of podcasts to showcase their findings which is accessible at their website Buddhist Philosophy and Buddhist Practice in the Pioneer Valley.

Learn more about the Buddhist Studies Program

Get a helpful snapshot of our program in our latest brochure.

Keep up-to-date

Stay informed about 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.

Requirements & Courses

Buddhist Studies Minor

  1. Required gateway: BUS 120
  2. Twenty-four additional credits from at least two disciplines, including anthropology, art history, literature, philosophy, religion and sociology, or others where appropriate, chosen in consultation with the minor adviser. Buddhist studies is interdisciplinary, and students must understand multiple approaches to the field in order to study it successfully.
    • Students 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. Buddhism is constituted differently in different cultures, and it is important to understand this diversity in order to make sense of Buddhism’s development and dissemination.
    • The minor should comprise study of both classical and contemporary Buddhism. The Buddhist tradition cannot be understood without an appreciation of its rich history and evolution. Nevertheless, any understanding of Buddhism would be incomplete without a sense of its contemporary manifestations and role in world culture.
    • No language study is required for the minor. A maximum of 8 credits towards the minor may be satisfied by the study of a language relevant to Buddhist studies (to be approved by the minor adviser). This language might be a canonical language, or a modern language that facilitates research in Buddhism. Buddhist studies relies on linguistic competence, and students who intend to pursue graduate studies in Buddhist studies are strongly encouraged to study languages. Credit for language will only be given for courses at the second-year level or above.
    • At least 8 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.


The following courses can be counted in the Buddhist studies minor. There are also many Buddhism-related courses offered throughout the Five Colleges.

BUS 120 The Study of Buddhism (1 Credit)

This course introduces students to the academic study of Buddhism through readings, lectures by Smith faculty and guests and trips to local Buddhist centers. Students critically examine the history of Buddhist studies within the context of numerous disciplines, including anthropology, art, cultural studies, gender studies, government, literature, philosophy and religion, with a focus on regional, sectarian and historical differences. Materials to be considered include poetry, painting, philosophy, political tracts and more. This course meets during the first half of the semester only. S/U only. {H}


BUS 253 Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy and Hermeneutics (4 Credits)

This intensive course is taught at the Central University of Tibetan Studies in Sarnath, India, as part of the Hampshire/Five College in India program. Students take daily classes, taught by eminent Tibetan scholars, in Buddhist philosophy, Indo-Tibetan hermeneutics and Tibetan history and culture, and they attend regular discussion sessions as well as incidental lectures on topics including Tibetan art history and iconography, Tibetan astrology and medicine and Tibetan politics. Students also visit important Buddhist historical sites and explore Varanasi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Each student is paired with a Tibetan student "buddy" to get an inside view of Tibetan culture. No prerequisites. Enrollment limited to 15. Application and H/5CIP permission required. {H}{N}{S}

Interterm, Variable

BUS 254 Buddhist Culture and Thought of Japan (Global FLEX Program) (3 Credits)

This Global FLEX program will bring students to Kyoto University for a three week intensive studyfocused on Buddhist Studies, widely understood doctrine, history, art and architecture, performing arts(tea, Noh), martial arts, contemporary philosophy, Buddhist psychology, ritual and contemplativepractice, and visits to temples and other sites. Classes will be taught by a team of Kyoto Universityfaculty and colleagues along with the Smith faculty member who accompanies the group. We will alsooffer opportunities for students to stay longer in Kyoto, either enrolling in other Kyoto University programs and/or engaging in Summer Intern programs. Enrollment limited to 15. {A}{H}{L}


BUS 261/ REL 261 Buddhism, Race and Justice (4 Credits)

Offered as REL 261 and BUS 261. What can Buddhist texts and practices teach about analyzing and responding to contemporary forms of injustice, such as oppression based on race, caste, class, gender and sexuality? And how might responding to these forms of injustice lead to a reformulation of Buddhism? Drawing on classical and contemporary texts, this course addresses Buddhist contributions to the analysis of injustice and the practice of making social change. Working collaboratively, students explore the ethics of attention; the body, identity and identity politics; the place of anger in response to injustice; the phenomenology of marginalization and liberation; and the practice of violence and non-violence.  (E) {L}{S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

BUS 400 Special Studies in Buddhist Studies (1-4 Credits)

Admission by permission of the director of the Buddhist studies program. Normally, enrollment limited to Buddhist studies minors only.

Fall, Spring

Crosslisted Courses

ANT 274 The Anthropology of Religion (4 Credits)

What can anthropologists teach us about religion as a social phenomenon? This course traces significant anthropological approaches to the study of religion, asking what these approaches contribute to our understanding of religion in the contemporary world. Topics include religious experience and rationality; myth, ritual and magic; rites of passage; function and meaning; power and alienation; religion and politics. Readings are drawn from important texts in the history of anthropology and from contemporary ethnographies of religion. {S}

Fall, Spring, Annually

ARH 290mc Colloquium: Topics in Art Historical Studies-Meditations in Caves (4 Credits)

The course is an introduction to Buddhist grottoes of East Asia. We will learn the historical trajectories of Buddhist grottoes, including the development of cave architecture, mural painting, and sculpture. It pays special attention to the site specificity of the visual imageries, and their transmissions, commissions, and functions. The case studies in this course range from the Kizil Caves and Mogao Caves in Northwestern China, to the Yungang Caves and Longmen Caves in the central plains, and the Seokguram Caves in the Korean Peninsula. We will also consider the collecting, preserving and displaying of Buddhist grottoes in the contemporary world. Enrollment limited to 20. {A}{H}

Fall, Spring, Variable

BUS 261/ REL 261 Buddhism, Race and Justice (4 Credits)

Offered as REL 261 and BUS 261. What can Buddhist texts and practices teach about analyzing and responding to contemporary forms of injustice, such as oppression based on race, caste, class, gender and sexuality? And how might responding to these forms of injustice lead to a reformulation of Buddhism? Drawing on classical and contemporary texts, this course addresses Buddhist contributions to the analysis of injustice and the practice of making social change. Working collaboratively, students explore the ethics of attention; the body, identity and identity politics; the place of anger in response to injustice; the phenomenology of marginalization and liberation; and the practice of violence and non-violence.  (E) {L}{S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

PHI 108/ REL 108 The Meaning of Life (4 Credits)

Offered as REL 108 and PHI 108. This course asks the big question, "What is the Meaning of Life?" and explores a range of answers offered by philosophers and religious thinkers from a host of different traditions in different eras of human history. We explore a variety of forms of philosophical and religious thinking and consider the ways in which philosophical and religious thinking can be directly relevant to our own lives. {H}{L}

Fall, Spring, Annually

PHI 127 Indian Philosophy (4 Credits)

An introduction to the six classical schools of Indian philosophy. What are their views on the nature of self, mind and reality? What is knowledge and how is it acquired? What constitutes right action? Students read selections from the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Nyaya and Yoga Sutras, and the Samkhya-Karika, amongst others. At the end of the semester students briefly consider the relation of these ancient traditions to the views of some influential modern Indian thinkers like Aurobindo, Vivekananda and Krishnamurti. Comparisons with positions in the western philosophical tradition will be an integral part of the course. {H}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

PHI 234ts Topics in Philosophy of Human Nature-The Self (4 Credits)

This course explores a cluster of the most fundamental questions about human nature: What are we? Do we have core selves that determine our identity? If so, what is such a self, and how does it develop? Or might we be selfless? If we are selfless, what is the nature of our identities? What might the reality or unreality of the self mean for the nature of our experience, for ethics, or for what gives our lives meaning? These are questions that have been raised and addressed with great sophistication in both Indian and Western philosophical traditions and that have been explored empirically in cognitive psychology and by experimental philosophers. Our investigation will therefore be both cross-cultural and interdisciplinary. {S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

PHI 252 Buddhist Philosophy: Madhyamaka and Yogacara (4 Credits)

This course examines the two principal schools of Indian Mahayana Buddhist philosophy. The Madhyamaka school is highly skeptical and critical in its dialectic. The ​Yogācāra or Cittamatra school is highly idealist. The two present contrasting interpretations of the thesis that phenomena are empty and contrasting interpretations of the relationship between conventional and ultimate reality. The debate between their respective proponents is among the most fertile in the history of Buddhist philosophy. Students read each school's principal sutras and early philosophical texts, medieval Tibetan and Chinese commentarial literature and recent scholarly discussions of the texts and doctrines of these schools. Prerequisites: one course in Philosophy or Buddhist Studies. Enrollment limited to 40. {H}

Fall, Spring, Variable

PHI 330sc Seminar: Topics in the History of Philosophy-Schopenhauer and Indian Philosophy (4 Credits)

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) was the first important European philosopher to take Indian philosophy seriously. He follows Kant’s transcendental idealism but places Kantian philosophy in dialogue with the Vedānta and Buddhist philosophy filtering into Europe as German and British orientalism began to flourish, synthesizing Kantian and Indian idealism. We will explore the Indian roots of Schopenhauer’s thought, the 19th century transmission of Indian ideas to Europe in which he participates, and the ways he uses Indian philosophy to advance a post-Kantian philosophical program. Prerequisite: a course in early modern European philosophy or a course in the history of Indian philosophyJuniors and Seniors only. Enrollment limited to 16. {H}{S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

PSY 304/ REL 304 Seminar:Happiness: Buddhist and Psychological Understandings of Personal Well-Being (4 Credits)

Same as PSY 304. What is happiness? What is personal well-being? How are they achieved? This course examines the core ideas of the Buddhist science of mind and how they are being studied and employed by psychologists, neuroscientists, cognitive scientists and psychotherapists. The focus of the course is the notion of "happiness," its cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary definition as well as the techniques advocated for its achievement by both the Buddhist and the psychologist. Prerequisite: PSY 100, REL 105, one course in Buddhist traditions or permission of instructor. Enrollment limited to 15. Juniors and seniors only. Instructor permission required. {N}{S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

REL 164 Buddhist Meditation (4 Credits)

This course will explore classical and contemporary forms of Buddhist meditation theory and practice. It will examine both classical formulations and contemporary expositions with an eye to seeing how the theory and practice of Buddhist meditation are being adapted to fit the needs of people today. Enrollment limited to 25. {H}

Fall, Spring, Variable

REL 171 Introduction to Contemporary Hinduism (4 Credits)

This course is an introduction to the ideas and practices of contemporary Hinduism in India and the diaspora, with an emphasis on how Hindu identities are constructed and contested, and the roles they play in culture and politics. Materials to be considered include philosophical writings, ritual texts, devotional poetry and images, religious comic books, legal treatises, personal memoirs, as well as ethnographic and popular films. {H}{L}

Fall, Spring, Variable

REL 270 Zen Buddhism and Japanese Culture (4 Credits)

The development of Buddhism and other religious traditions in Japan from prehistory through the 19th century. Topics include doctrinal development, church/state relations, and the diffusion of religious values in Japanese culture, particularly in the aesthetic realm (literature, gardens, tea, the martial arts, etc.) {H}

Fall, Spring, Variable

REL 275 Religions of Ancient India (4 Credits)

This course is an introduction to the literature, thought and practice of religious traditions in India, from ancient times to the medieval period. Readings include materials from the Vedas, Upanishads and epics, from plays and poetry, as well as Buddhist and Jain literature. Particular consideration is given to the themes of dharma, karma, love and liberation as they are articulated in Classical Hinduism. {H}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

REL 280 South Asian Visual Culture (4 Credits)

How does one make sense of what one sees in South Asia? What is the visual logic behind the production and consumption of images, art, advertising and film? This course considers the visual world of South Asia, focusing on the religious dimensions of visuality. Discussions include the divine gaze in Hindu and Buddhist contexts, the role of god-posters in religious ritual and political struggle, the printed image as contested site for visualizing the nation and the social significance of clothing and commercial films in colonial and contemporary India. Students also work closely with holdings from the Smith College Art Museum.

Fall, Spring, Variable

REL 284 Tantra and Yoga in India (4 Credits)

Tantra and yoga teach techniques to attain magical powers, achieve liberation, and transform the world. These traditions have influenced nearly every aspect of Indian religious life over the last two millennia, and yet they have often been shrouded in secrecy because of their potency. This course explores these complex traditions by considering source materials in translation as well as contemporary theoretical literature on practice, ritual, transgression, and historiography. {H}

Fall, Spring, Variable

REL 305vn Seminar: Advanced Topics in Religion-Violence, Non-violence and Revolution (4 Credits)

How do religious traditions justify acts of violence? And when and why do they embrace nonviolence? And what happens when these choices lead to revolution? This course considers the logic and practice of violence and non-violence in a variety of religious traditions around the world, as well as the ethical, social, and political consequences of these phenomena. Topics include suicide bombing and self-immolating, Gandhi’s ahimsa and Martin Luther King’s agape, spiritual ecology and ecoterrorism, and much more. Enrollment limited to 12. Juniors and seniors only. Instructor permission required. {H}{L}{S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

Courses Outside of Smith

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

Two Wisdom Academy online courses are available to the Smith College community free of charge:  

1. Smith College Professor Jay Garfield and Central Michigan University Professor Guy Newland recorded The Three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma. The course, over 10 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
  • an explanation of how ethics and metaphysics relate to each other

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

2. Professor Jay Garfield recorded Buddhist Philosophy in Depth, Parts One, Two and Three, with each part comprised of 10 lessons. The course provides students with:

  • the fundamentals of Buddhist philosophy across traditions
  • familiarity with Buddhism’s greatest thinkers and writers
  • how philosophy can be used to deepen Buddhist practice
  • what constitutes Buddhist ethics, metaphysics, and philosophy of mind
  • how the core teachings of the Buddha have evolved throughout history
  • the famed teachings on emptiness or Madhyamaka, the philosophy of the Middle Way
  • the influential Mind Only school of philosophy, or Yogācāra
  • how Ancient Buddhist philosophers conceived of the mind and the phenomenal world, and how they debated their views
  • how the influence and richness of Indian Buddhist philosophy helped spread the Buddha’s message throughout Asia
  • how the synthesis of Madhyamaka and Yogācāra philosophy helped form the early Chinese schools, and Chan, as well as the significance of the kōan tradition in Chan
  • how Buddhism was transmitted to Japan, and influenced by the famed Zen Master Eihei Dōgen
  • how the traditions of sutra and tantra were transmitted to Tibet, and gave rise to the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, carrying on the Nalanda tradition of Indian Buddhist philosophy
  • the distinctive features of the Buddhadharma’s transmission to the West

Smith College students, faculty and community members can log in here to access the Buddhist Philosophy in Depth course content free of charge.  


We have archived many lectures and events on our YouTube channel.


The Ven. Dr. Yifa speaking at Smith College


Jay L. Garfield


Doris Silbert Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy, Logic and Buddhist Studies

Jay Garfield

Jamie Hubbard


Professor of Religion and Yehan Numata Professor in Buddhist Studies; Jill Ker Conway Chair in Religion and East Asian Studies

Jamie Hubbard

Andy Rotman


Sydenham Clark Parsons Professor and Professor of Religion, Buddhist Studies, and South Asian Studies

Andy Rotman

Affiliated Faculty

Kimberly Kono

East Asian Languages & Cultures

Professor of Japanese Language & Literature

Kim Kono

Sujane Wu

East Asian Languages & Cultures

Professor of Chinese Language & Literature

Sujane Wu

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. See a list of recent seminars.

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

Tibetan Studies in India

Spend interterm studying Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan history and culture in an intensive program taught by the faculty of the Central University of Tibetan Studies in Sarnath, India.


Two monks blowing into large horns, Tibet


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.

2023 Recipients

  • Clara Kim '23, "Song of Silence: A Buddhist Analysis of 4'33""
  • Aditi Sharma '23, "From Kamikaze Soldier to Corporate Warrior: How the Japanese Government’s Co-option of Zen Buddhism Paved the Way For the Modern Corporate Mindfulness Movement"

To submit a paper for consideration, students should complete the information and upload a paper using this form.  Submissions must be received by 12 noon on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. 

Winners are notified by the Dean of the College in writing and are announced on Commencement weekend at Last Chapel and at 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.

Contact Buddhist Studies

Wright Hall 106

Smith College

Northampton, MA 01063