Distance Learning Courses and Degrees in Buddhist Studies

Oct 20, 2021

Essential Information

Distance learning courses are available in Buddhist studies at the master's degree level. Fully online degree programs are unavailable, but online course options do exist. On-campus Buddhist studies programs are typically also offered at the graduate level. Program prerequisites include a bachelor's degree and undergraduate coursework in Buddhist studies and comparative religions. Some programs also require reading proficiency in Japanese or another language connected to Buddhist studies. Buddhist studies is a broad field of study that includes studies in anthropology, ethnomusicology, history, philosophy and religion.

For students seeking a fully online option, the closest equivalents to a degree in Buddhist studies would be online bachelor's degree programs in either East Asian studies or religious studies. Both of these programs include courses on either Asian religions in general or Buddhism in particular, and students can customize these programs by choosing courses that coincide with their specific interests.

Master's Degree in Buddhist Studies

Students may pursue a Master of Arts (M.A.) degree in Buddhist studies or a Master of Buddhist Studies (MBS) degree. An M.A. program covers other religious traditions along with Buddhism, while the more intensive MBS program provides systemic instruction in Buddhist doctrine, philosophy, history and culture. Both programs culminate in a written thesis.

Interested students must have a bachelor's degree and have completed undergraduate coursework in Buddhist studies and comparative religions. Other requirements may include a statement of purpose, letters of recommendation and reading proficiency in a language that relates to the study of Buddhism, like Japanese.

Program Details and Requirements

Students generally finish their degrees within 2-3 years. The amount of the degree that may be completed through distance learning depends on the program and an individual student's needs, since only a small and variable selection of courses may be available online each semester. Distance learning materials take the form of online lectures and discussions. Students must have reliable, high-speed Internet access.

Common Courses

Buddhist studies classes can cover a wide range of disciplines, including history, philosophy, theology, sociology and psychology. Listed below are typical Buddhism-related courses found in online master's degree programs.

Introduction to Asian Buddhist Traditions

This course provides an overview of Buddhism's origins in India and the effects of its spread throughout the region. This introduction may be divided into two courses, covering South Asia and East Asia in separate semesters.

Buddhism and Globalization

Advances in worldwide communications, trade and travel have influenced the spread of Buddhism around the globe. With an emphasis on its expanding presence in North America, this course examines the influence of Buddhist thought and practice on western culture, as well as the consequences of adaptation for modern Buddhism in general.

Zen Buddhism

This course covers the writings, traditions and practices of Japanese Zen. Students learn about Zen teaching stories, rituals, meditation and arts, as well as the impact of Zen's modern expansion to the West.

Tibetan Buddhism

Starting with Indian Mahayana Buddhism, this course traces the development of the primary schools of Tibetan Buddhist thought. Along with studying the traditions, literature and practices of Tibetan Buddhism, students consider its rising popularity in the West and its modern political context.

Psychological Theories in Buddhism

Students examine the psychological aspects of Buddhism through traditional texts. Concepts explored include emptiness and no-self, mindfulness, the transformation of consciousness and Buddha-nature.

Career Information

Graduates with a master's degree in Buddhist studies commonly seek jobs as postsecondary teachers or chaplains. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for postsecondary teachers of philosophy and religion was $76,160 as of May 2020. Employment growth is expected to be 7% (much faster as the average for all occupations) from 2019-2029. This is due to anticipated increases in both student population and teacher retirements ( Job openings for members of the clergy, such as chaplains, are expected to grow by 4% from 2019-2029, per the BLS. The median annual salary for clergy members was $51,940 as of 2020.

Individuals with an interest in Buddhist studies have several options for online study, including hybrid master's degree programs as well as a small number of online courses. Individuals desiring a fully online program may consider a bachelor's degree in East Asian studies or religious studies instead.

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