South Asian Buddhism at UofT


From the valleys of the Himalayas to the coasts of Southern Burma. From the earliest preserved Buddhist fragments to what is currently going on in the Buddhist streets and households of Dharamsala, Kathmandu, or Mandalay. From the monastic archives of the textualist to the many fields of merit of the ethnographer. From Abhidhamma to Critical Theory, — this is the range the study of South Asian Buddhism at the University of Toronto has to offer. What makes our University unique is its impressive regional and local reach in this field, its strong engagement with the historical as well as with the contemporary, the methodological variety, and the keen interest of its students and faculty, and the keen interest of its students and faculty in theorizing South Asia through Buddhism.


Buddhist domestic ritual, women as producers of texts and learning, medical texts and the Buddhist body, the role of ritual in the creation of literature, or theorizing memory and translation are only some of the areas faculty and student work coming out of UofT is well known for. While also offering programmes and degrees that include the study of Buddhism other than South Asian and encouraging students to deepen their understanding of South Asian religion by capitalizing on the University’s additional strengths in Hinduism, Jainism, and South Asian Islam, UofT has acquired a profile in the fields of Burmese, Nepalese, Sri Lankan, Tibetan, and Indian Buddhism that is among the strongest and most visible in the world.


South Asian Buddhism at UofT


While our various second-year lecture courses introduce Buddhism globally and historically, UofT’s upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses on South Asian Buddhism open up to students the worlds of regional Buddhist literatures, such as those of ancient and medieval India, Sri Lanka, Burma/Myanmar, Thailand, and Nepal, or the philosophical literature of the Theravādins. Topical courses focus on key issues in the study of South Asian Buddhism, such as ritual, magic, kingship and historiography, doctrines of time and causation, doctrines of the self, gender, or translation. Finally, and most importantly, in-depth readings of key texts in the original and in translation, such as, for example, the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra, the Dhammapada, the Milindapañha, the Vessantarajātaka and the Maṇicūḍāvadāna in their Pāli, Old Newar, Sanskrit, Tibetan, and in their vernacular versions, train students to work on primary sources, including manuscripts.


For a list of current UofT South Asian Buddhism graduate students and their profiles, please see here, – for alumni see here. For an overview of study opportunities, please visit this page.


South Asian Buddhism at UofT


Being able to access texts in their original form is key to a successful study of South Asian Buddhism. One of our main goals at UofT is for students to achieve reading competence in at least two languages of Buddhism, classical or vernacular. Regular offerings of the most important languages of South Asian Buddhism on all levels, introductory, intermediate, and advanced, are courses in Pāli, Newar, Sanskrit, Tamil, and Tibetan. Depending on the language, courses are offered either as summer intensive courses or bi-weekly in small directed-reading groups. For the languages of South Asian Buddhism not taught at UofT there is logistic and, occasionally, budgetary support to join language courses abroad.

South Asian Buddhism at UofT


Our lecture academic lecture and conference programme featuring South Asian Buddhism is one of the richest in the world. Hardly anywhere else are students updated on current research as much as at UofT. Both the Numata Lectures and Reading Group Sessions and the Religious Genealogies of Contemporary South Asia Colloquium, scheduled annually during the fall and spring terms, always feature at least two lectures each by top researchers in one of the fields of South Asian Buddhism from around the world and bring together speakers, faculty, and students interested in other South Asian religions as well. In addition, the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies hosts the annual Burma Lecture whose guests usually engage with Buddhism in Burma/Myanmar. International conferences on South Asian Buddhism (see Conferences) are regularly held at UofT, sponsored by the Numata Program as well as other international institutions.

South Asian Buddhism at UofT


Christoph Emmrich, Associate Professor of South and Southeast Asian Buddhism at UofT, works on children, gender, mimesis, and memory, and the translation of ritual idioms across Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. Through historical records and contemporary testimonies he studies Buddhist and Brahmanical practices, such as ear-piercing and the marriage to the bilva fruit, designed for and transformed by girl children in Burma/Myanmar and the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. Christoph has also worked on time in Pāli literature, Burmese travel writing, ritual failure in Nepalese processions, and the role of ritual in Newar literary production. His main current project is Once the Buddha Was a Girl.


Frances Garrett, Associate Professor of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies at UofT, focuses on Tibetan religious history and its relations with other forms of Tibetan intellectual and literary culture, especially medicine. Frances’s work has addressed the implications of controversies over human development in Tibetan scholasticism, how Tibetans reconcile medical physiology with Buddhist descriptions of the body, and the formation of intellectual and literary disciplinarity. One of her more recent projects on the Gesar cycle was Mapping an Epic: Religion and Healing in Inner Asia.


Kajri Jain, Associate Professor of Indian Visual Culture and Contemporary Art, has worked on popular images in modern India, such as the bazaar icons known as calendar art, or monumental statues, such as those of Tibetan and Dalit Buddhism, and theme parks, focussing on a vernacular business ethos where religion has been the primary site for adopting new media and expressive techniques.


Joel Tatelman is an eminent scholar and translator of Buddhist Sanskrit who has worked on Nepalese Buddhist narrative literature. Joel has been successfully teaching UofT’s intensive Beginners and Intermediate Sanskrit courses, training a promising new generation of Sanskritists.
Other Buddhism Faculty at UofT


Amanda Goodman