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REL 134g: Ancient Scriptures and Contemporary Buddhist Life

Explore Buddhist Thought and Practice in Southern California
Instructor: Associate Prof. Lori Meeks
Dates: May, 2014: 

What roles do scriptures—or religious texts—play in contemporary religious life? Westerners first learning about an unfamiliar religious tradition often begin by studying the tradition’s most sacred texts. Scriptures provide a good starting point for learning about a religious community, but even the closest investigation of scripture provides only partial knowledge. To understand the role that scriptures play in a particular religious tradition, we need to investigate the dynamics between text, interpretation, and practice. What do Buddhists do that identifies them as Buddhists, and how do these practices relate to sacred texts? Through what processes have Buddhist communities recorded, transmitted, and reinterpreted their teachings? And finally, how do Buddhist communities make sense of and use scriptures today? 

This course is two-pronged. Part of the week will be devoted to lecture and discussion sections. In these meetings you will learn about the history of Buddhist literature and will perform close readings of the tradition’s most fundamental texts. During the remainder of the week, we will embark on fieldtrips to Buddhist temples and will interact with local Buddhist nuns, monks, ministers, and lay followers. On these trips you will discover how contemporary Buddhist communities understand, use, and interpret ancient scriptures as they engage with twenty-first-century American society. 

In addition to our group field trips, you will also work with a small group of peers on a final research project in which you investigate the use of scripture at a particular community or set of communities. Together with your group (and under the guidance of the instructor and teaching assistant), you will make at least four independent site visits to collect data and perform interviews. Your group will present a short, preliminary report to the class at the beginning of week three and will present a final report on the last day of class.


Program Costs:

Tuition: $6144 (can be included as part of Spring load) 

For further information on this course and to apply, contact Associate Professor Lori Meeks at meeks@usc.edu at the School of Religion and Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, ACB 234.