Institute of Archaeology

Archaeology of Buddhism

This course will examine the sources (archaeological, textual, art-historical, epigraphical) for studying the history and development of Buddhism, and the problems and tensions between text and material based frameworks of analysis. It tracks the early origins of Buddhism in the Gangetic valley of India during the mid first millennium BC, and its spread to other parts of South Asia and subsequently to East, Central and Southeast Asia. It will introduce students to the main architectural and sculptural manifestations of the tradition, discussing key themes such as the history and chronology of monasteries and monasticism, the stupa and relic cult, the various schools of Buddhism, and the development of patronage networks. In addition to thematic and region-by-region lectures, there will be three seminars aimed at discussion of issues that are relevant for the Buddhist world at large (models of religious change, decline and transformation, and Buddhist economics). Chronologically the main focus is the period between the mid first millennium BC and mid first millennium AD, although the later history of Buddhism (up to 12th century AD in India) is also discussed.

Aims of the course

  • Introduction to the archaeology of Buddhism, and its relationship to textual and art-historical sources.
  • Provide comparative approach to Buddhism as a linking factor between the various regions of Asia.
  • Situate student of Buddhist propagation within models of religious, social and economic change in Asia.


  • Familiarity with the religious, social and political background of the early teachings of the historical Buddha in the Gangetic valley of ancient India
  • Familiarity with the basic precepts of Buddhism
  • Recognise the key artistic and architectural manifestations of Buddhist ritual and monasticism, during the periods and regions covered by the course
  • Familiarity with the tensions and debates between text, and material based frameworks of analysis.
  • Familiar with patterns and models of religious change with regards the spread of Buddhism

Learning Outcomes

  • observation and critical reflection
  • application of acquired knowledge
  • oral presentation skills

Teaching Methods

10 x two-hour sessions comprising a combination of lectures (17 hours) and seminar-style discussion (3 hours).

Course information

  • Code: ARCLG277
  • Credits: 15
  • Coordinator: Julia Shaw
  • Prerequisite: None
  • Handbook: Available upon request

For registered students

  • Moodle page: open»
  • Reading list: 


  • Running in 2017-18

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