Skip to main content


HIS3351 : Buddhism and Society in Medieval Japan

  • Offered for Year: 2022/23
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Philip Garrett
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


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’. The module explores 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 sh?en: 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

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion551:0055:00N/A
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials81:008:00Video, audio, and textual lecture materials, contributing to contact hours.
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. Seminars will be offered in person, dependent oin the public health situation, and can be moved to online synchronous delivery in the event of public health necessity. Drop-in surgery time enables students to ask questions and receive guidance on research methods and essay composition.

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
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.

Reading Lists