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De-Centering the Normative in the Introduction to Buddhism Class

Issue: Vol 38 No. 1 (2021)

Journal: Buddhist Studies Review

Subject Areas: Religious Studies Buddhist Studies

DOI: 10.1558/bsrv.43216


In this article, I present an alternative method for teaching the Intro to Buddhism class. The standard way of teaching this class allows little room for non-normative aspects of Buddhism such as violence, and insofar as it does, it implicitly frames them as “aberrations” from “real Buddhism.” In my syllabus, I began by having students read The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh, which teaches them about Buddhist doctrine with a seductively modernist approach. At the mid-point of the semester, I then reveal to them that Thich Nhat Hanh’s book leaves out a great deal of what is found in actual traditional Buddhist practice, including reincarnation, gods, spirits, miracles, the supernatural, patriarchy, and violence. In the second half of the semester, we then study regional forms of Buddhism, with a special eye towards practice, including the practice of violence.

Author: Nathan McGovern

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References :

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Hanh, Thich Nhat. 1998. The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching. New York: Broadway Books.

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