Buddhism in Contemporary Society
While including the monastic Theravada traditions of Sri Lanka and Thailand, this class will focus on the Mahayana tradition of the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal, which here—uniquely in South Asia—has survived till the present day. We will approach this tradition by examining particular themes such as Buddhist monasticism and its interaction with the laity, the adaptation to the caste system, the cult of stupas and images, festivals of Buddhists deities, life-cycle and other rituals, the tradition's narrative literature, etc. Exploring continuities and ruptures, Nepalese Buddhism will be contrasted with Theravada Buddhism. For this we will draw on material from Sri Lanka and Thailand, and consider the recent introduction of Theravada Buddhism to the Kathmandu Valley, and the impact of Buddhist modernism. In this way the class will not only make sense of a complex religious field—the Kathmandu valley where Buddhism exists alongside Hinduism and indigenous traditions—but also allow for more general insights into Buddhism and how it functions in society.