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Mongolian Buddhist Mathematics
Catalog Number CEUS-U 320/520
Brian Baumann

Mongolian Buddhist mathematics (a.k.a. astronomy/astrology/science) might seem like the epitome of an arcane and extraneous subject, but its syncretistic, catholic tradition among the Mongols preserves layers of influence, which reveal not only the history of traditional science across Eurasia but the fundamental principles of knowledge. In this course we will examine the relationship between science and religion from the point of view of the problem of time.  In the process we will see definitively how subjects such as apotropaic medicine, magic, ritual, divinity, and divination – all too often studied fruitlessly in isolation – are inter-related in and integral to traditional science and predicated upon empirical observation in nature.  Likewise, we will examine the role traditional mathematics played in Asian society from the time of the Mongol Empire through the modern era.  We will see too how Buddhist mathematics compares with Modern Science and other knowledge systems of Eurasia; how mathematics fits within the greater Buddhist tradition; and how it relates to Inner Asian shamanism. 

Readings, Materials, and Methods:

Readings and bibliography will be collected in a course packet.  Mongolian sources in translation will be compared with sources in similar genres from across Eurasia.  Articles and book excerpts by scholars will be included plus a wide range of primary sources, among them, selections from Brian Baumann’s Divine Knowledge: Buddhist Mathematics According to the Anonymous Manual of Mongolian Astrology and Divination, the Vaidūrya dkar po, Kālacakratantra, Sūrya Siddhānta, Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos, the Chinese Huainanzi, the Turkish Irq bitig, a Babylonian compendia of omina, and Second Isaiah. The format of the class will be predominantly lecture with dates and readings assigned specifically for discussion.  Lectures will be supplemented with illustrations when appropriate.  Though some of the readings are included to facilitate discussion, discussion sessions are focused on specific topics, concerning which students are expected to prepare by gathering their thoughts not only from readings but from what they know of the topics in the media and scholarship. Midterm and final essay exams will test students’ mastery of conceptual and historical aspects of the subject.  A ten page term paper on an area of student interest will also be required.  To this end dates will be assigned by which students will be expected to decide on a topic and prepare a reading list.

Grades:  Midterm exam (25%); term paper (15%); final exam (45%); attendance and participation (15%).