L&S Curricular Connections

L&S Discovery Courses

LS 160D

Thinking about Not Thinking: Approaches to Buddhist Meditation

Philosophy & Values

Buddhist meditation, it is often claimed, is a means of experiencing the world directly–a way of transcending the confines of language, culture, history, and discursive thought. What, then, can be said about meditation and meditative experience?

A great deal, as it turns out. This course will introduce students to the vast body of literature bearing on the subject of meditation, from both within and without the Buddhist tradition. It is not a course on how to meditate, but rather a multi-disciplinary introduction to the subject that will juxtapose historical, ethnographic, doctrinal, psychological, and philosophical perspectives.

We will begin with an introduction to the study of Buddhism, focusing on cosmology, doctrine, and institutional history. In the process, we will historicize and critique popular new-age depictions of Buddhism that situate meditation in the context of psychotherapy, self-help, mysticism, and so on. The course will include excursions into the disciplines of anthropology, ritual theory, philosophy of mind, developmental psychology, cognitive science, and religious studies. The objective is for students to gain a sophisticated understanding not only of Buddhism and meditation, but also of the theoretical tools that scholars use to make sense of religion and “religious experience” writ large.

All are welcome, but the upper-division designation signals that the course will involve a good deal of reading, writing and thinking.

Robert Sharf faculty profile
Robert Sharf (East Asian Languages and Cultures)

Terms Offered

  • Spring 2013
  • Spring 2012
  • Spring 2009
  • Spring 2007