Buddhist Traditions: History and Culture

Dr. Julia Stenzel | 20. August 2021 to 3. October

This course provides an introduction to the emergence of Buddhism in South Asia, its historical and intellectual development, and the beginnings of its spread to other regions of Asia. We will explore key Buddhist ideas and trace how they have been applied, developed and transformed over time. Buddhist scholars and practitioners have been exploring human suffering and its causes, have asked questions about the mind, the self, and reality; and they have proposed paths towards freedom from suffering and ideal ways of life. We will study how these ideas are expressed in early Buddhist sources and then taken up and reimagined as Buddhism spread to new cultural contexts. Although we take the perspective of historians in this course, our aim is to reflect on our understanding of the world and be inspired by the ways Buddhists in the past have tried to best live in this uncertain world.

The course will be taught in four sections:

1.         The Buddha, Ancient Indian Society & Early Buddhist Teachings

2.         The Buddhist Community (Sangha) & The Buddhist Councils

3.         The Intellectual History: Philosophical Developments from Abhidharma to Madhyamaka, Yogācāra, and Tathāgatagarbha Thought

4.         Later Developments: Tantric Buddhism in India & its Spread to Northern Regions

Through a combination of selected readings, both, scriptural and academic, as well as the exploration of various forms of Buddhist practice such as art, pilgrimage and devotional practices, you will acquire a foundational understanding of the variety of Buddhist traditions. Through the study of Buddhist scripture and academic scholarship you will learn to critically evaluate emic and etic perspectives of the developments and transformations of Buddhist institutions, doctrines and practices. 

This class (BSTD 101) is a compulsory class of the Rangjung Yeshe Institute’s BA program. The second part of this class (BSTD 102) will be offered at RYI online in the spring semester 2022.

Course format and structure

This is an academic course worth 3 credits. However, you can also attend it without earning academic credits. 

The course will be taught in four sections. Each section will be covered over a weekend in the form of lectures (including film screenings, virtual visits to Buddhist pilgrimage sites, excerpts of documentaries, power-point slides, etc.), alternated by group discussions and individual reflection. During the lecture-free intervals, reading material and recorded lectures will help you prepare for the study weekends.

The topics of this class allow for ample class discussion in which you learn to appreciate the richness of Buddhist traditions, while at the same time developing an evidence-based evaluation of academic and traditional sources. 

Dates and Commitment

The dates for the course are: 

20. - 22.08.
03. - 5.09.
17. - 19.09.
01. - 03.10.

The classes will be 40 hours in total, taught in four blocks. Over the course of 8 weeks, we will meet every second weekend in Gomde. 

Each weekend consists of 8.5 hours of meetings. In addition, you will have access to ca. 1.5 hours of video material to watch during the week.

·         FRIDAY EVENING: 1.5 hour class

·         SATURDAYS: four one-hour classes

·         SUNDAYS: three one-hour classes

·         Additional video material to watch: ca. 1.5 hours

If you take this course for credit, please be prepared to do a fair amount of reading and submit all class assignments. If you do not take this class for credit, you are not required to do the readings and assignments, although it is advisable. The reading material will be in English.

About the teacher

Dr Julia Stenzel did her doctorate at McGill University in Canada and now teaches at Rangjung Yeshe Institute in Nepal. Previously she did three consecutive three year retreats under the guidance of the Tibetan Buddhist master Lama Gendun Rinpoche. Julia also contributed to several sutra translations of the 84,000 project.

Julia was born in the US and raised in Germany. She pursues her interest in meditation, compassion, and Buddhist philosophy with great passion.

This course is for you if you...

  • would like to gain a good grasp of the history of Buddhist traditions in South Asia and its transmission to other areas of Asia.

  • would like to have acquired hands-on experience of the basic skills required of a researcher in the field of Buddhist studies (namely 1) critically reading and assessing different kinds of textural and visual sources; 2) listening to others’ opinions and discussing your views with your peers; 3) composing an original academic essay, complete with a bibliography and properly cited sources)

  • would like to learn Western academic content from a true scholar-practitioner who also has years of experience of traditional meditation retreats and is a world-citizen, dividing her time among Asia, North America, and Europe.

Assessment methods and required texts

Besides attending lectures and participating in discussions, you will be asked to write short reflection papers, complete online quizzes and write a final essay.

Required Texts:

  • Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices, Cambridge University Press, 2012, 2nd Edition, (also available as Kindle edition or as a PDF here:
  • Electronic course reader with the remaining textual material, including excerpts of Buddhist scriptures and academic articles. 

Studying at Gomde

Rangjung Yeshe Gomde Germany-Austria was founded by the Tibetan master Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche in 2004 as a place to study, contemplate, and practice authentic Tibetan Buddhism and meditation. Gomde is located in a natural and scenic setting in the idyllic hills of the Almtal area, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Gomde offers the ideal environment to devote yourself to looking inward and finding harmony with yourself and the environment.

During your studies at Gomde you can also choose to participate in the daily morning and evening practice, the weekly Monday meditation, and other practices.

You can meditate in the beautiful meditation pavilions, practice mindful walking on the Bodhi-Path in Gomde’s forest, reflect on what you have learned while swimming in the Bodhi-Pond, and meet other people interested in compassion and wisdom from all around the world.


Non-credit: 535€ 

For-credit: 535€ + 430€ 

For food and accommodation Gomde is asking for you a donation.