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buddhism in film

Budda with Film Reel

This course is an introduction to Buddhism and an exploration of the place of Buddhism within contemporary Asian, European, and North American cultures through films


Course Dates:

June 2 - June 14, 2014

relb 2252: buddhism in film

3 credits

Film is the most powerful form storytelling and communication today. Contemporary film takes on the great questions of life: What is most important in life? What is most difficult? How should I live alone and with others? What came before me, and what will happen when I die? In this course we watch recent films about Buddhism that take these questions seriously, and we will discover the films’ answers together in conversation as we meet for daily discussion. Buddhist films are a major part of contemporary world cinema, especially in Asia. We watch eight films from across the globe, all of which engage Buddhist philosophy, stories, views of life. Buddhist filmmakers invite us to ask what film can and should be about, but also to ask how we watch film. Can viewing a film be a meditative experience? A spiritual experience? And what is a spiritual experience, anyway? The Buddhist films we watch together in this course provide the perfect occasion to ask these fundamental questions about human existence.


Computers, phones, and all other electronic devices must be turned off and safely stowed in a backpack for the duration of the film.


Seminar participation consists of coming to every class and talking openly about the films with your peers. Discussion is the key to gaining a greater personal and collective understanding of the films. It is also what makes a course interesting! Please come prepared to discuss the films with your colleagues. We will spend the first twenty minutes of each discussion period collection your questions on the board or screen.


Keep a film journal. Write about the films in a notebook during and after the film viewing. Hand in the film journal at the end of the first week for review, and use it to write your final exam. The film journal should address the issues listed below in the final exam. They should consist of four components:

  1. 1. A segmentation' or outline, of each film. Segmentation is the process of dividing the film into parts for analysis
  2. 2. A character profile for the major characters in each film. As you watch a film, keep a running list of the characters and briefly describe them.
  3. 3. Comparisons with the plot and characters of each film with the Buddha biography.
  4. 4. Five questions about the films to discuss in the seminar. Bring five questions about the film for each discussion seminar. These will form the basis of discussion.


All films are fictional dramas produced within the last twenty years. The countries of origin are: Bhutan, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, and Thailand. Two are by women writer/directors.

Total Tuition and Fees

Virginia Resident

Tuition $334 per Credit
Summer Fee  
Virginia Resident Total

Non Virginia Resident

Tuition $1,176.00 per Credit
Summer Fee  
Non-Virginia Total Costs



Kurtis R. Schaeffer, Professor and Chair
University of Virginia Department of Religious Studies