Religious Studies | Studies in Religion: Tantric Buddhism
R300 | 13389 | R. Nance


Class carries COLL A&H distribution

Among varieties of religious practice, few have so captured—and so
confused—popular and scholarly imagination as that of tantra. For
many Americans today, the word "tantra" likely conjures up a welter
of associations: clouds of incense, sexual acrobatics, forbidden
pleasures, black magic, dissolute gurus, and exploitative New Age
piffle (to name only a few). Though not completely unfounded, these
associations often bear little—if any—resemblance to the practice of
tantra as Buddhists have traditionally understood it. In this class,
we will explore aspects of this traditional understanding as they
have taken shape in Indian and Tibetan Buddhist traditions.
Questions to be addressed include: What, in general, is (a) tantra?
What techniques and ideas have been associated with tantric
traditions? Where and when do these techniques and ideas originate?
Have they changed over time—and, if so, how? What roles do texts
play in tantric traditions? What kinds of texts have tantric
Buddhists composed? How do Buddhists deal with apparent clashes
between claims made in tantric texts and claims made in other
Buddhist texts? In working toward answering these questions, we will
be reading several primary sources in English translation, as well
as recent secondary literature on esoteric Buddhist history and
doctrine. Students will be assessed via multiple take-home essay
exams.

Although the course has no prerequisites, it is not intended to
serve as an introduction to Buddhism. Students having no familiarity
with Buddhism are encouraged to enroll instead in REL-R 250
(Introduction to Buddhism).