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RELS 390 Zen Buddhism in American Culture

This course explores the historical background and cultural impact of Zen Buddhism as it has been inherited and assimilated into American life. It includes a survey of historical Buddhism and its transmission lines from China, Japan and Vietnam, and an overview of Zen philosophy and psychology; approaches to diet and health; Zen arts and social ethics; and Zen impact on American religious seekers. The class also considers political activism among the students of Zen and American women's role in transforming traditional patriarchal Zen. Field trips to a Zen temple and a Zen center are required.
4 Undergraduate credits

Effective August 1, 1998 to present

Meets graduation requirements for

Learning outcomes


  • Assess and appreciate Buddhist influences in American arts and letters and religious philosophy.
  • Gain a deeper understanding of historical Buddhism and its place in today's world.
  • Know Buddhist ideas, beliefs, behaviors, and cultures in the American context.
  • Recognize and analyze the cultural and philosophical diversity of American and recent Asian immigrant Buddhists, and the individual and institutional dynamics of relations between the two groups.
  • Understand the process of cultural transmission and cross-cultural assimilation and group differences, as well as the changing meaning group identities.

Minnesota Transfer Curriculum

Goal 6: The Humanities and Fine Arts

  • Demonstrate awareness of the scope and variety of works in the arts and humanities.
  • Understand those works as expressions of individual and human values within a historical and social context.
  • Respond critically to works in the arts and humanities.
  • Engage in the creative process or interpretive performance.
  • Articulate an informed personal reaction to works in the arts and humanities.

Goal 7: Human Diversity

  • Understand the development of and the changing meanings of group identities in the United States' history and culture.
  • Demonstrate an awareness of the individual and institutional dynamics of unequal power relations between groups in contemporary society.
  • Analyze their own attitudes, behaviors, concepts and beliefs regarding diversity, racism, and bigotry.
  • Describe and discuss the experience and contributions (political, social, economic, etc.) of the many groups that shape American society and culture, in particular those groups that have suffered discrimination and exclusion.
  • Demonstrate communication skills necessary for living and working effectively in a society with great population diversity.