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Art in Buddhism REL4017

Course content

Art has throughout the history of Buddhism played a major part in promulgating Buddhist doctrine and practice. Originally Buddhists did not wish to express the mage of the Buddha, and portrayed his figure only as a footstep – the buddha having disappeared onto nirvāṇa. However, from the Mathura and Gandhāra periods of Buddhist art on, the image of the Buddha is universally depicted in the context of all the narrative and doctrinal aspects of Buddhism, as well as in the various cultic practices developed in Buddhist history. Thus it is inescapable to have some understanding of Buddhist art to understand the numerous Buddhist traditions.

Mode of instruction

After and introductory overview the various aspects of Buddhist art from its beginning will be treated in more detail, like the Mathura/Gandhāra styles, then Gupta style, followed by lectures on the spread of Buddhist art into China, and then into Tibet and East Asia in general. Altogether there will be 7 lectures on the topics, and 5 seminars, during which each the participants will present some part of the curriculum orally, and then as the final examination in an essay. The main instructor and responsible for the course is Professor Jens Braarvig, but the course is also part of the cooperation with Texas University, Austin, from where comes Professor Janice Leoshko, who will give several of the lectures.

Learning outcomes

I. A deeper understanding of the Buddhist tradition by means of art historical material and theory

II. Understanding of the connection between artistic expressions, doctrine and cult, as well as of the function of art in Buddhism

III. Ability in analyzing artistic expressions in Buddhism as grounded on Buddhist traditions.

Recommended prior knowledge

Background in Buddhist history, anthropology, language and/or doctrine.


An essay of 8-10 pages, the topic of which should be presented in a seminar.


Pass or fail.

Publisert 7. juni 2013 10:25 - Sist endret 10. juni 2013 11:31