Buddhist Studies

Buddhism is a religious, philosophical and spiritual practice based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, an Indian spiritual teacher from the 5th century, B.C. Those who enroll in Buddhist studies programs explore the history and philosophy of Buddhist teachings. See what you will learn and do in this field, what careers you can pursue and what degree programs are available.

Are Buddhist Studies for Me?

Career Overview

Buddhist studies involve the study of tantric and meditative traditions, as well as Japanese, Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist art and literature. The curricula in these programs introduce you to the languages, literature, religion and history of South and East Asia with a focus on Buddhism, exploring the life and teachings of Buddha through the study of original texts. You might study Buddhism in an interdisciplinary program through university philosophy, language, history, art history or anthropology departments. Some schools offer the opportunity for you to study abroad in a Buddhist region, such as Thailand, China, Japan, Tibet or India.

Earning an undergraduate degree in Buddhist studies allows you to explore career opportunities in several industries, such as business, counseling, law and academia, which is similar to many humanities or social sciences majors. Knowledge of Buddhist teaching could lead to niche jobs in journalism, business, politics or academia. Both undergraduate and graduate programs are available, depending on your career goals.

With a degree in Buddhist studies, you could seek religious vocations or work as a researcher in this field, writing and publishing academic papers on subjects, such as the study of sutras or traditions. You could also work as a postsecondary teacher on the subject, which could combine scholarly, research and writing tasks.

Qualifications for postsecondary teachers include advanced degrees, being able to motivate students and the ability to conduct research and publish findings. Your advancement to a position as a tenured professor typically depends on the review of your contractual agreements and work, in which your teaching, research and general beneficence to the college is considered.

Career Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for postsecondary teachers varied slightly in 2013, depending on the subject taught (www.bls.gov). For instance, philosophy and religion teachers earned $65,540, foreign language and literature teachers earned $58,620, and history teachers earned $66,790. The BLS also projects that the number of jobs for postsecondary teachers overall will increase 19% from 2012-2022; in particular, jobs for philosophy and religion teachers are predicted to increase 19%, jobs for foreign language and literature teachers are predicted to increase 15%, and jobs for history teachers are expected to increase 14% during that same decade.

How Can I Work in Buddhist Studies?

Undergraduate Education

Undergraduate degree programs in Buddhist or religious studies can vary. A Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Asian Religions or a B.A. in Religious Studies can introduce you to Asian languages, which might be required for more advanced study. Some undergraduate programs offer general regional, philosophical or religious studies, while others provide a distinct focus on Buddhism.

Graduate Options

A master's degree program in religion with a focus on Buddhist studies might include intensive coursework in Asian languages, culture and history. You might be required to be able to fluently read and write one or more specific languages before enrolling in a graduate program. Schools could offer ethnographic and historical materials for your research projects. A master's degree program usually takes up to two years to complete.

Doctoral programs in Buddhist studies, theology and related areas might require you to study Buddhist texts in the original languages, such as Sanskrit, Pali, traditional Chinese, Tibetan or Japanese. Some programs also require fluency in French or German. You'll be taught how to understand and appreciate cultural, social and historical contexts of Buddhism. You might explore the fields of history, literature, philosophy and anthropology while conducting research. A Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) might require 2-7 years of study, and you'll typically need to create an original dissertation in order to graduate.

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