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HandWiki. Buddhist Studies. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 23 April 2024).
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HandWiki. (2022, November 18). Buddhist Studies. In Encyclopedia.
HandWiki. "Buddhist Studies." Encyclopedia. Web. 18 November, 2022.
Buddhist Studies

Buddhist studies, also known as Buddhology (although the latter term is sometimes reserved for the study of Buddhas rather than that of Buddhism as a whole), is the academic study of Buddhism. The term applies especially to the modern academic field, which is a subset of religious studies, and is distinct from Buddhist philosophy or Buddhist theology. Scholars of Buddhist studies represent a variety of disciplines including history, anthropology, and philosophy. In contrast to the study of Judaism or Christianity, the field of Buddhist studies has been dominated by "outsiders" to Buddhist cultures and traditions. However, Japan ese universities have also made major contributions, as have Asian immigrants to Western countries, and Western converts to Buddhism.

buddhology theology buddhism

1. Relationship to Contemporary Buddhism

Charles Prebish, a scholar-practitioner and Chair of Religious Studies at Utah State University, describes the academics who are also Buddhist practitioners as fulfilling a crucial traditional role that has gone otherwise unfilled in countries that are not traditionally Buddhist:

Throughout much of Buddhism’s history, Buddhist scholarship and practice have been two very distinct vocations in a highly polarized tradition. Not surprisingly, stories reflecting the study/practice dichotomy in Buddhism are abundant in both the primary and secondary literature on the subject. Walpola Rahula’s History of Buddhism in Ceylon provides a good summary of the issue. During the first century B.C.E., in response to a concern over the possible loss of the Tripitaka during a severe famine, a question arose: What is the basis of the Teaching (sasana)—learning or practice? A clear difference of opinion resulted in the development of two groups: the Dhammakathikas, who claimed that learning was the basis of the Sasana, and the Pamsukulikas, who argued for practice as the basis. The Dhammakathikas apparently won out.

The two vocations described above came to be known as gantha-dhura, or the “vocation of books,” and vipassana-dhura, or the “vocation of meditation,” with the former regarded as the superior training (because surely meditation would not be possible if the teachings were lost). Moreover, the vipassana-dhura monks began to live in the forest, where they could best pursue their vocation undisturbed, while the gantha-dhura monks began to dwell in villages and towns. As such, the gantha-dhura monks began to play a significant role in Buddhist education.


2. Geographical "Schools"

Prebish writes that:

...geographic associations seem to identify at least two 'schools' of Buddhology: the Anglo-German and the Franco-Belgian. The former (and older) was led by T. W. Rhys Davids and Hermann Oldenberg, while the latter included primarily Louis de La Vallée Poussin, Jean Przyluski, Sylvain Lévi, Paul Demiéville, and Étienne Lamotte. To these schools, Edward Conze, quite reasonably, adds a third: the Leningrad school, including Stcherbatsky, Rosenberg, and Obermiller. The Anglo-German school almost exclusively emphasized the Pali literary tradition, while the Franco-Belgian school utilized the Sanskritic materials, along with their corresponding translations and commentaries in Chinese and Tibetan. The Leningrad school is clearly closer to the Franco-Belgian school than the Anglo-German. These are general classifications, but they nonetheless capture the style of the traditions as they have been maintained over the last century.[2]

Prebish goes on to discuss developments in the USA:

Although some might consider Eugène Burnouf the founding father of Buddhist Studies as a discipline, the beginnings of Buddhist Studies in the United States seem inextricably bound to three primary individuals: Paul Carus, Henry Clarke Warren, and Charles Rockwell Lanman. [...] Despite the work of these early educators, it was not until after 1960 that Buddhist Studies began to emerge as a significant discipline in the American university system and publishing industry. During the Vietnam War years and immediately thereafter, Buddhist Studies was to enjoy a boom, largely through the efforts of such leading professors as Richard Hugh Robinson of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Masatoshi Nagatomi of Harvard University, and Alex Wayman of Columbia University. No doubt there were many reasons for the increased development of Buddhist Studies, not the least of which were the increase in area studies programs in American universities; growing government interest in things Asian; the immense social anomie that permeated American culture in the 1960s; and the growing dissatisfation with (and perhaps rejection of) traditional religion.[3]

Donald Lopez emphasizes the influence of Geshe Lhundup Sopa at Wisconsin, and Jeffrey Hopkins at Virginia.[4]

3. University Programs and Institutes

The first graduate program in Buddhist studies in North America started in 1961 at the University of Wisconsin–Madision.[5] According to Prebish, Buddhist studies in the United States prior to 1975 was dominated by the University of Wisconsin, Harvard University and the University of Chicago.[1] Prebish cites two surveys by Hart in which the following university programs were found to have produced the most scholars with U.S. university posts: Chicago, Wisconsin, Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Virginia, Stanford, Berkeley, Princeton, Temple, Northwestern, Michigan, Washington, and Tokyo.[6]

Other regionally-accredited U.S. institutions with programs in Buddhism include the University of the West, Institute of Buddhist Studies, Naropa University, and the California Institute of Integral Studies. (A number of dharma centers offer semi-academic, unaccredited study; some of these seem likely eventually to win accreditation.)

Prominent European programs include Oxford University and Cambridge University, School of Oriental and African Studies, Humboldt University of Berlin, University of Hamburg, University of Munich, University of Heidelberg, University of Bonn, University of Vienna, Ghent University, and the Sorbonne. In Asia, University of Tokyo and Rissho University have long been a major centers for Buddhist research, and Nalanda University launched a master program at 2016.

4. Professional Associations

  • International Association of Buddhist Studies

5. Publications

Journals specializing in Buddhist Studies (in alphabetical order):

  • Buddhist Studies Review
  • Canadian Journal of Buddhist Studies
  • Contemporary Buddhism
  • The Eastern Buddhist
  • The Indian International Journal of Buddhist Studies
  • International Journal for the Study of Humanistic Buddhism
  • Journal of Buddhist Ethics
  • Journal of Buddhist Philosophy
  • Journal of Chinese Buddhist Studies
  • Journal of Global Buddhism
  • Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies / Indogaku Bunkkyogaku Kenkyu
  • Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies
  • Journal of the International College for Postgraduate Buddhist Studies
  • Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies
  • Pacific World: Journal of the Institute of Buddhist Studies
  • The Pure Land: Journal of the International Association of Shin Buddhist Studies
  • Sengokuyama Journal of Buddhist Studies
  • Thai International Journal of Buddhist Studies
  • Universal Gate Buddhist Journal / 普門學報

In addition, many scholars publish in journals devoted to area studies (such as Japan, China, etc.), general Religious Studies, or disciplines such as history, anthropology, or language studies. Some examples would be:

  • Indo-Iranian Journal
  • Japanese Journal of Religious Studies
  • Journal of Chinese Religions
  • Journal of Contemporary Religion
  • Journal of Indian Philosophy
  • Journal of the Pali Text Society
  • Philosophy East and West
  • Buddhist-Christian Studies

Major university presses that have published in the field include those of Oxford, Cambridge, Indiana, Princeton, SUNY, and the Universities of California, Michigan, Chicago, Hawaii, and Virginia. Non-university presses include Curzon Press, E.J. Brill, Asian Humanities Press, and Motilal Banarsidass. A number of scholars have published through "dharma presses" such as Snow Lion Publications, Wisdom Publications, or Shambhala.


  1. Prebish, Charles (Spring 2006). "The New Panditas". Buddhadharma. Archived from the original on January 4, 2013. 
  2. Prebish 1999, p. 185.
  3. null
  4. Lopez, Donald S., Jr. (1998). Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-49310-5. 
  5. Lopez 1998, p. 159.
  6. Prebish 1999, p. 194.
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