Graduate 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.

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 will normally 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 at least one Asian language relevant to their intended area of research at the time of admission. Students with a Master's degree should check with their prospective advisor prior to submitting their application to confirm that their Master's degree will be accepted. Students without a Master’s degree should apply to the M.A./Ph.D. program and will normally complete the M.A. en route to the Ph.D.

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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Application materials become available in late September for admission effective the following year. All application materials must be submitted online. All applicants should list an email and postal address that will be effective through the entire application period.

The Graduate Division website provides a detailed picture of the university's requirements. We admit students for the Fall semester only.

Applicants will submit unofficial transcripts, GRE scores , etc. on-line as part of the application. Admitted students will be required to submit two copies of all official transcripts in envelopes sealed by the issuing institutions at a later date.

A writing sample in English must be included with the on-line application. The writing sample is intended to gauge an applicant's academic writing ability, and should be a paper that the student feels best represents the quality of his/her work. An ideal writing sample will be around 20 pages on a topic related to Buddhist studies, but a paper on another topic or of a different length may be acceptable.


Students thinking of applying to the Ph.D. program are strongly encouraged to visit the Berkeley campus and meet the Buddhist Studies faculty and students prior to submitting their application. Students should contact the Graduate Advisor in advance of their visit for help in setting up faculty appointments and arranging to visit a graduate seminar.

Letters of Recommendation: Three letters of recommendation are required. As part of the application you will have to submit the names and contact information for the letter writers. Letters in languages other than English should be translated into English, but the original letter, in the original language, must be included. The Group recommends that letters of recommendation come from faculty members who can comment on the applicant's intellectual capacity, analytical skills, ability to write English, and general aptitude for scholarly work. Letters from nonacademic referees are rarely helpful. All letters must be submitted on-line by the recommenders no later than two weeks after the application deadline to ensure that they are included in the review process.

Graduate Record Examination (GRE): To send an official score to UC Berkeley, list the institution code assigned by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) for UC Berkeley, 4833.

Applicants from Abroad: International applicants are urged to examine closely the requirements for certification and translation of records and TOEFL requirements provided in the Graduate Application and the information on legal residency and fees. International students with F-1 or J-1 visas must pay nonresident tuition every semester of graduate study in addition to instate fees (with a 75% reduction in nonresident tuition after advancement to Ph.D. candidacy).

Review Process

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After submitting online applications, applicants will receive an email from the Graduate Division confirming receipt. Additional contact will be made by e-mail within three weeks of the deadline indicating any documents that have not yet been received.

Applications are reviewed and ranked by the Buddhist Studies Admissions Committee in consultation with members of the Group in Buddhist Studies. The Committee makes its selection on the basis of all the application materials — the transcripts, personal statement, letters of recommendation, writing sample, GRE scores, and so on. We play close attention to evidence of linguistic proficiency, knowledge of the field, writing skills, initiative, and potential for scholarly growth. We also consider whether or not the applicant's academic goals can be met by the Group's faculty and program structure. Those chosen are recommended to the Graduate Division, which sets the number of students the Group can admit, makes a final review of the applications, and issues an official letter of admission to the student. The number of students the Group can admit is usually very small and admission is highly competitive.

The Group does its best to offer multi-year fellowships to all incoming students. (See "Financial Support") Students admitted with a fellowship are notified by late-February; in the exceptional case where a student is admitted without a fellowship, notification may be made at a later date.

Financial Support

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The Group does its best to offer multi-year fellowship packages to all incoming students. A multi-year package generally consists of two years in which the Group pays a two-semester living stipend plus fees, and two years in which the student receives a stipend and fees in return for service as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI). Should the student advance to candidacy by the end of the fifth year (tenth semester) of study, he/she will receive a Doctoral Completion Fellowship (two-semester stipend plus fees).

Fellowships are merit-based and are judged competitively. The Group is only able to provide fellowship support to its own students. We are, however, occasionally able to offer GSI positions to students outside the Group. (See "GSI opportunities" page.) Fellowship applicants indicate their interest in Multi-Year Fellowships, Block Grant Fellowships, and Diversity and Graduate Opportunity Program Fellowships on Form C of the Graduate Application; FLAS applicants should also complete Form D, and international students should complete Form E. Please review the instructions in the Graduate Application to determine eligibility for these awards.

Graduate students may apply for need-based financial aid, in the form of grants, loans and work-study, administered through the Financial Aid Office (FAO). Only U.S. citizens and eligible non-citizens (those holding permanent resident cards) may apply for funds administered by the FAO. Applicants complete and submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.

All continuing students in Buddhist Studies may apply to the Group for additional funding for summer research, conference travel, and so on. Availability of such funds differs from year to year.

Advanced students also have an opportunity to teach summer courses through the Group in Buddhist Studies, the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, and the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies.

GSI Opportunities

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A limited number of Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) appointments are available each year for larger courses such as "Introduction to the Study of Buddhism." Priority is given to students in the Group, but positions sometimes become available for students in other programs. Applications for these positions are available in February of the preceding academic year and must be requested separately from the graduate program application.

Some faculty receive research grants which they use to hire Graduate Student Researchers (GSR). Following admission, students interested in GSR positions should write directly to the faculty member(s) who share their fields of interest about the availability of such positions.

M.A & Ph.D Requirements

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M.A. Requirements

M.A. Requirements:

Applicants to the Ph.D. program must have completed an M.A. in one of the appropriate Asian languages or have equivalent language preparation. Prospective applicants without an M.A. or the equivalent should apply to the Buddhist Studies M.A./Ph.D. program. 

Note: The Group does not admit students who do not intend to continue on to the Ph.D.. Students who wish to apply to a M.A.-only program may consider the M.A. program in the Group in Asian Studies or the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies.

Coursework for the M.A.

A minimum of twenty-four units of coursework must be completed for the M.A. These will include: (1) a minimum of three graduate seminars (four units each) in the student's major language field, with a final seminar paper written in each, (2) four units of the Group's ongoing Proseminar, (3) four additional units of electives. All courses should be chosen in consultation with the student's Academic Advisor. Students who need to acquire a second language to satisfy Ph.D. requirements will be advised to begin work on that language as early as possible.

M.A. Thesis Committee

Students entering the M.A./Ph.D. program will select an Academic Advisor before classes begin. The Advisor must be a core member of the Group in Buddhist Studies. Once the subject of the student's Master's thesis becomes clear, the student, in conversation with the Advisor, will constitute a M.A. Thesis Committee with the Advisor acting as Chair.  The Committee will consist of:

●   Chair (GBS core faculty)

●   Inside member (GBS core or affiliate faculty)

●   Additional member (GBS or outside faculty)

M.A. Thesis 

The M.A. thesis may be based on a previous research paper and is typically 30-50 pages.  After the proposal has been received and approved by all parties, the student and the M.A. Committee Chair will agree on a date for the work’s completion and will meet regularly to examine drafts of the work and discuss the progress of the project. Advancement to the Ph.D. is contingent upon satisfactory completion of the M.A.

Ph.D Requirements

Academic Advisor and Mentoring Committee
Each student entering the Ph.D. program will select an Academic Advisor before classes begin. The Advisor must be a member of the Group in Buddhist Studies. In addition, at least one other faculty member from the Group in Buddhist Studies is selected to constitute, along with the Advisor, the student's "Mentoring Committee." The Mentoring Committee is responsible for overseeing the student's program of coursework, course of language study, selection of cognate areas, timing of preliminary exams, and so on. Membership in the Mentoring Committee can be changed at any time with the agreement of the student, the student's Advisor, the Buddhist Studies Head Graduate Advisor, and the Director of Buddhist Studies. The Mentoring Committee is replaced by the "Dissertation Committee" (see below) once candidacy is achieved.

A minimum of 8 graduate seminars or upper division courses are required, all of which are chosen in consultation with the Academic Advisor. At least one seminar must be taken in the field of Buddhist art history. In addition, at least one seminar must be taken in each of the two cognate fields (see under Qualifying Exams). The art history course requirement can simultaneously fulfill the course requirement for the cognate disciplinary field in the event that said field is art history.

All pre-candidates are required to enroll for 1 credit in the Buddhist Studies Proseminar (BS200) each term they are registered, provided that the seminar is being offered. This seminar does not count toward the 8 course requirement. This seminar focuses on recent scholarship in the field, particularly interdisciplinary and cross-regional scholarship. It involves all Buddhist Studies faculty and students, and typically meets four times or so each semester.

All courses taken to fulfill the degree requirements, including the art history seminar, seminars taken to fulfill cognate field requirements, and the Buddhist Studies Proseminar, must be taken for a letter grade.

Language Study
Advanced facility in at least two Asian languages is considered a fundamental component of the Ph.D. program in Buddhist Studies at Berkeley, but it is not an end in and of itself. Students are required to master the range of classical and modern languages required to pursue advanced research in their chosen field. Each student selects a primary language area. Determination of which additional languages are necessary for the student's course of study, and the procedures for the evaluation of proficiency in those languages, is determined by the Mentoring Committee in accordance with Graduate Division regulations. The following table is provided as a guideline.

  • Chinese: Classical and modern Chinese, as well as modern Japanese (as a research language), and a modern European research language (typically French).
  • Japanese: Classical (Bungo) and modern Japanese, as well as Classical Chinese/Kanbun, and a modern European research language.
  • Newari: Sanskrit and a modern research language.
  • Pali: Sanskrit and a modern research language (Sinhala or a Southeast Asian language recommended)
  • Sanskrit: Literary Tibetan and/or Classical Chinese, and a modern research language (Japanese, German, or French)
  • Tibetan: Sanskrit and/or Classical Chinese, as well as a modern research language (modern Chinese, Japanese, German, or French)
  • Southeast Asian Languages: Sanskrit and Pali, as well as a modern research language

Annual Review
The Mentoring Committee conducts an annual review of the student's academic performance and progress toward the degree in the spring of each year, before the end of the Spring term (see F4.2 of the Graduate Studies Handbook). Students should fill out the Graduate Division Annual Review Form and provide the Mentoring Committee with all seminar papers written that year, as well as any other documentation deemed pertinent and requested by the Committee. Should a student's performance be considered unsatisfactory, following consultation with the Head Graduate Advisor and Director of the Program, the student will be placed on probation for one year and given the opportunity to improve his or her performance. If a student's performance is still considered unsatisfactory at the end of the probationary year, the student will be dismissed from the program.

Qualifying Examination and Dissertation Prospectus
F3.3 of the Graduate Studies Handbook states: "The intent of the Qualifying Examination is to ascertain the breadth of the student's comprehension of fundamental facts and principles that apply in their major fields of study and whether the student has the ability to think incisively and critically about the theoretical and the practical aspects of these fields."

The Qualifying Examination process consists of five stages: (1) constituting the Qualifying Examination Committee and convening the Qualifying Examination Colloquium, (2) taking the written examination in the Cognate Regional Field, (3) taking the written examination in the Cognate Disciplinary Field, (4) submission of the Dissertation Prospectus, (5) the Qualifying Oral Examination.

Qualifying Examination Committee and Colloquium 
The Qualifying Examination process in Buddhist Studies begins with a colloquium in which the student meets with his or her Qualifying Examination Committee. This Committee consists of four persons, namely the two or three members of the Mentoring Committee and one or two additional members selected for their expertise in the cognate fields. Three members of the Examination Committee must be members of the Group in Buddhist Studies. (See Graduate Studies Handbook F3.3 and F5.7 for further regulations governing membership on the Committee.) The colloquium is an opportunity to discuss the academic fields, content, structure and timing of the exams.

Cognate Fields 
The cognate exams consist of two written take-home examinations--one in each of the two "cognate fields."

  • 1. Cognate Regional Field: this exam is intended to reinforce breadth of knowledge in the Buddhist traditions of Asia. Students of East Asian Buddhism will normally do this in the areas of South and/or Southeast Asian Buddhism, and vice versa.
  • 2. Cognate Disciplinary Field: this exam focuses on the student's primary region of study, but in a disciplinary field outside that of Buddhist Studies. Appropriate cognate disciplines include anthropology, art history, history, literature, philosophy, and so on. Thus a student of Chinese Buddhism might select Chinese art history, a student of Tibetan Buddhism might select the anthropology of Tibet, and so on.

Preparation for these exams should begin early in the student's coursework. In consultation with the Mentoring Committee the students will select their two cognate areas and take at least one upper division course or graduate seminar in each area. Preparation for the qualifying exam continues with supplementary readings based on a bibliography prepared by the student in conjunction with the Qualifying Examination Committee. This Committee is responsible for setting the exam questions for the cognate written exams. The student is given 24 hours to write on a total of three questions for each exam. Each of the written exams is evaluated by all members of the Examination Committee.

Dissertation Prospectus 
The prospectus should begin with a general review of the scholarship in the field, and situate the thesis within that field. It should clearly articulate the thesis and program of research, identifying the available source material to be consulted. In framing their subject matter and thesis, students are expected to demonstrate their ability to synthesize philological, historical, and theoretical perspectives. The prospectus must include a chapter outline, and a full bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Oral Qualifying Exam 
The oral examination will occur shortly after the submission of the dissertation prospectus. It will focus on the content of the written cognate exams, the basic literature in the student's primary field, as well as the content and cogency of the prospectus.

The first written cognate exam is held no more than two months following the preparatory exam colloquium, and the second cognate exam is normally taken no more than two months after the first. The dissertation prospectus is normally submitted no more than two months following the second written exam. The oral exam is scheduled within two weeks of the submission of the dissertation prospectus. The entire process of qualifying cognate exams, prospectus, and oral should take about six months, and should be completed by the end of the sixth term in the program.

Teaching Experience
Teaching experience is central to a student's intellectual and professional formation, and critical for success on the job market. Every student in the Buddhist Studies program is expected to serve as a Graduate Student Instructor for a minimum of two semesters during the course of their studies.

Constitution of the Dissertation Committee
The Dissertation Committee, consisting of three faculty members, is formed immediately following advancement to candidacy, following provisions set forth in the Graduate Studies Handbook F5.7ff.

Dissertation Defense
All dissertations in the Buddhist Studies program must be defended orally, following "plan A" outlined in the Graduate Studies Handbook F3.8. The defense committee consists of five members, namely the existing three member dissertation committee and two additional members. The defense must be scheduled for no less than two hours, and must be open to the public.