Module Catalogue 2023/24

HIS3351 : Buddhism and Society in Medieval Japan

HIS3351 : Buddhism and Society in Medieval Japan

  • Offered for Year: 2023/24
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Philip Garrett
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
  • Capacity limit: 20 student places

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System

Modules you must have done previously to study this module

Pre Requisite Comment



Modules you need to take at the same time

Co Requisite Comment



This Special Subject proceeds from the premise that there was no such thing as 'religion’ in medieval Japan, and at the same time that there was no activity or organisation in medieval Japan which was not ‘religious’. Through reading key texts in the Esoteric, Pure Land, and Zen traditions, we will study the permeation of Buddhist thought and institutions through Japanese society in the late classical and early medieval periods, with a focus on the interwoven functions and authority of the trifunctional elite of civil, military, and monastic authority in the Kamakura period. We will take a multidisciplinary approach to developing our understanding of the period, drawing together study of religion, philosophy, and ritual with human (and sacred) geography, institutional and legal history.

Outline Of Syllabus

This module is structured around three central themes: medieval Buddhist thought and practice, the political structure of late classical and early medieval Japan, and their interrelation in the economic and sacred landscape. Topics covered may include a combination of the following, or similar related topics:

The foundations of Buddhism, its development in Asia, and evolution in Japan
Religious experience and conceptions of Awakening
The nexus of politics at court and in monastic institutions in the late Classical Period
Politics and society, dharma and state
Land and shōen: monastic centres as landholders
Temple complexes and monastic cities
Local society and medieval Japan as seen from the ground
Mountains, Networks, Pure Lands
Conflict within and between religious sites
Religious alternatives in the medieval period
Zen and politics in the medieval period

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

- Students will be able to explain the foundations of Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) and Esoteric Buddhism, and their development in Japan in the classical and early medieval period.

- Students will develop their understanding of the intellectual foundations of thinkers such as Kūkai and Kakuban, and their political significance in classical and early medieval Japan.

- Students will develop their understanding of the foundations of alternative religious systems as set out by thinkers such as Dōgen, and their social and political significance in medieval Japan.

- Students will be able to analyse and explain the political and economic structure of Heian and Kamakura-period Japan.

- Students will debate and investigate the interrelation of Buddhist thought and the political order of medieval Japan.

Intended Skill Outcomes

- Students will explain and interpret key modern historiographical and philosophical approaches to the period.

- Students will refine their interpersonal skills in discussion, collaborative debate, and seminar group work.

- Students will develop their independent research and writing skills to degree-level standard, with the potential to display a professional working standard.

- Students will be able to improve the quality of their written English through essay writing and feedback.

- Students will improve their ability to communicate academic topics accessibly and with different audiences in mind.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials81:008:00Video, audio, and textual lecture materials, contributing to contact hours.
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion551:0055:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading561:0056:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching112:0022:00In-person seminars
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery31:003:00Drop-in sessions for essay support and Q&A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study561:0056:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lecture materials provide the necessary broad overview for each topic area and encourage students to see the big picture. These materials will be delivered asynchronously as a connected set of video, audio, and textual materials, using the Canvas VLE as a supporting framework. Seminars encourage independent study and promote improvements in oral communication, problem-solving skills and adaptability. This encourages students to worth collaboratively with their peers, developing the interpersonal skills necessary for their future careers. Drop-in surgery time enables students to ask questions and receive guidance on research methods and essay composition.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Design/Creative proj2M30Visual presentation of key concepts in 1500 words, using both images and text in poster, powerpoint, or website form
Essay2A702000 word essay (inclusive of footnotes, exclusive of bibliography)
Formative Assessments

Formative Assessment is an assessment which develops your skills in being assessed, allows for you to receive feedback, and prepares you for being assessed. However, it does not count to your final mark.

Description Semester When Set Comment
Reflective log2MA diary or blog entries reflecting on key concepts in the module. Total 500 words
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The reflective log allows students to develop their understanding of key concepts in the module. By writing out their thoughts and understanding informally, and without the pressure of writing for assessment, students will explore the central ideas of the module alongside their preparation for assessed work.

Essays test students’ abilities to conduct independent research, relate primary source documents to broader problems, the ability to formulate an interpretation of evidence in response to a question, and academic writing skills. The researching and writing of an essay is a tool of learning and understanding rather than merely a means of assessing progress.

Visual presentation of research in the form of a poster presentation, click-through slides, or website allows students to develop their presentational skills and the ability to explain concepts and research in an accessible format, supporting the development of this key transferrable skill for their forthcoming professional careers.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


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