Graduate Program

Program Overview

The Berkeley Group in Buddhist Studies offers an interdisciplinary program of study and research leading to a Ph.D. degree in Buddhist Studies. The Group, which cooperates closely with the Departments of South and Southeast Asian Studies (SSEAS), and of East Asian Languages and Cultures (EALC), emphasizes the study of Buddhism in its many forms within its Asian historical and cultural context.


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The ability to read and analyze Buddhist texts in their original languages is an indispensable skill for research in the field. Accordingly, the study of classical Asian languages constitutes a core element of the doctoral program. The specific combination of Asian languages required for any particular Ph.D. student will depend on his/her area of research, but all students will be expected to gain facility in a minimum of two Asian languages, at least one of which will be Classical Chinese, Classical Japanese, Pali, Sanskrit, or Classical Tibetan.

While linguistic competence is crucial, it is not considered an end in itself. Students are expected to acquire a sophisticated appreciation of the historical, social, and cultural milieus from which the Buddhist textual legacy emerged. All students in the Ph.D. program are encouraged to broaden and deepen their understanding of Buddhist phenomena through incorporating archaeological, ethnographic, and visual materials and perspectives. Because of Berkeley's particular strength in the area of Buddhist visual culture (three of the Group's faculty are specialists in Buddhist art), all students in the program are expected to take at least one course in art history. In addition, depending on their research interests, students are encouraged to do additional work in fields such as anthropology, critical theory, history, literature, philosophy, and so on. The goal of our program is not only to provide students with the linguistic, methodological, and conceptual skills required to produce significant new research on Buddhist phenomena, but also to have students bring their research into dialogue with ongoing issues and concerns in the humanities writ large.

The Ph.D. program in Buddhist Studies is designed for students who intend to become scholars and teachers at the university level. Students wishing to enter the Ph.D. program must have a Masters degree or the equivalent in a relevant field, typically East Asian, South Asian, or Southeast Asian studies. A Masters degree in the field of religion is deemed relevant only if it includes significant training in Asian languages and cultures. In addition, all students must have facility in a least one Asian language relevant to their intended area of research at the time of admission.

The length of time needed to complete the Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies depends on the extent of the student's earlier preparation, the languages required for research in the student's chosen area, financial considerations, and other factors. Normative time to completion for the Ph.D. degree in Buddhist Studies is fourteen semesters (seven years).

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To learn how best to prepare for study at the graduate level in the humanities and the social sciences, current undergraduates may find useful Step by Step, a resource for UC Berkeley students to enrich their undergraduate academic experience and to prepare for graduate school.