Syllabus: Buddhism, Race, Gender, and Sexuality

This syllabus is winner of the LGBTQ-RAN's Educational Resource Prize in 2023.

Course: Buddhism, Race, Gender, and Sexuality

Course Description

Putting into conversation ethnographic, historical, contemporary, and primary sources, this class aims to consider the emergence of Buddhism in the U.S. through the voices of Buddhists whose social identities have rendered them marginalized within hegemonic U.S. culture. In our investigation, we seek to complicate the narrative of “North American Buddhism” (also taking into account that “American” refers to Central and South America) and to problematize the assumptions that buttress the dominant culture within “convert” Buddhism. At the same time that we endeavor to deconstruct, we will also investigate the lived experiences of Buddhist practitioners and inquire into how Buddhist doctrines, practices, and sanghas have served as both refuge and resistance. We will particularly pay attention to the intersections of queer and gender identities alongside race.

As we investigate community dynamics, we will also look carefully at complicated interpretations of the ordination of women, and the reality of sexual harm committed within identified Buddhist sanghas and institutions. Thus this class takes a two-pronged approach: to critique prevailing norms and patterns, and also to identify the Buddhist resources and modalities that have served to cohere marginalized communities.

Learning Objectives:

  • To investigate the distinctive hermeneutics and practices of Buddhists whose social identities render them marginalized, as they claim and maintain lineages within the landscape of Buddhism in the U.S.
  • To study the doctrinal frameworks of impermanence and Not Self in relation to racial, gender, and sexual identity.
  • To critically examine harm and transgression, including sexual abuse and gender discrimination, within Buddhist sanghas and organizations.
  • To examine modalities of solidarity amongst Buddhist sanghas and lineages


Course Syllabus