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The Asian Philosophies and Cultures MA program offers an introductory study into the spiritual and philosophical traditions of South and Southeast Asia, China, and the Himalayan regions. In addition, we seek to create an environment in which students may gain a broad academic foundation, while critically engaging with textual, historical, sociological/anthropological, and practical applications of Asian philosophy and religion.

Photo of five people seated, with their arms linked

The MA curriculum is 36 total units, consisting of three foundational courses, 12 units of program electives, 12 units of general electives, and a culminating integrative seminar. In this program, you can choose to emphasize Hindu, Buddhist, or Chinese philosophical studies. Students find that the knowledge and experience they gain in the MA program is valuable and personally transformative. Plus, there is a special program scholarship fund that can provide financial assistance for qualified applicants.

Degree Requirements

  • 9 units of core requirements
  • 12 units of Asian-themed elective courses
  • 12 units of general electives from any CIIS program
  • A 3-unit Integrative Seminar
  • Optional thesis

Below is a list of some of the classes that are offered in this program. To read the course description, click on the course title. To view the entire Asian Philosophies and Cultures course list, go to the CIIS Academic Catalog.

Introduction to Buddhism

This course covers Buddhist philosophy and practice in ancient India with an emphasis on its spread throughout Asia, its introduction to the West, and its social forms.

Asian Perspectives on “Self”

What is the self? The soul? Why are such notions deemed so important in both Western and Asian contexts? Much confusion abounds when these Western philosophical and spiritual terms are used as translations for Asian notions that speak of an enduring spiritual presence at the center or core of being human. In this course, we will explore notions of the self, the soul, and personhood in Asian philosophical and spiritual literature.

Special emphasis will be placed on the Chinese philosophical traditions of Confucius and Lao Tsu; Indian philosophical and spiritual traditions of Hinduism; and Buddhist spiritual traditions of Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. We will read key texts from these traditions and explore comparisons with Western philosophical and psychological literature.

Environmental Ethics in Asian Religions

In this course, we will examine the historical roots of environmental ethics in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, as well as ways in which contemporary practitioners draw on these traditions to address the current environmental crisis. Students will study the foundational ethic of ahimsa (non-harming), and the unique yet intersecting ways in which it manifests in various Asian paths.

We will consider nonviolence to the five elements, plants, animals, and other humans lived by exemplar practitioners as well as texts. Case studies—drawn from communities in the United States and in Asia—will illuminate tensions between theoretical values and the attempt to live these values fully.

Religion and Culture of Tibetan Peoples

An introduction to the varieties of Tibetan religious experiences, including the shamanistic folk traditions, the earliest pre-Buddhist organized religion of Bon, and the subsequent development of the Buddhist religious movements, both lay and monastic.

Buddhist Philosophical Systems: Study and Practice

What is the existential role of philosophy in the study and practice of Buddhism? How does an examination of one’s basic outlook or viewpoint clarify the existential pursuit of spiritual transformation? What is the final goal of such transformation? These and allied questions will be explored with respect to the Indian philosophical genre known as siddhanta—i.e., philosophical systems.

Mind and Meditation Practice

This course will be an exploration of the hidden mind as the creator of pain, spiritual growth, and freedom.  The deeper levels of the mind will be explored, along with the timeless transforming wisdom, which can light our own spiritual journey.

Hindu Mythology

In this course, we will study literary and religious aspects of Hindu myths. Through the reading of primary sources in translation, the course covers the main divinities and many mythological themes of early Vedic as well as later Puranic literature. We will follow the development of mythology from the Rig Veda to the epics—the Mahabharata and the Ramayana—and up to the classical mythology of the Sanskrit Puranas.

The Hindu Goddess

This course offers a survey of the goddesses in the Indian tradition. The special aspect of this class is its reference not only to the “great” goddesses of the pantheon, but also to several important local and cult goddesses.

Hindu Tantrism

This course surveys the basic historical and social background of Hindu Tantrism, touching on basic Tantric concepts such as mantra, yantra, siva-sakti, and diksa, and begins the discussion of the more subtle elements of Tantric philosophy as shown in the Kashmir Shaiva systems.

The Divination and Wisdom of the I Ching

Study of the Book of Changes with its commentaries and its philosophies.

Confucianism: Classic Texts and Philosophy

The teachings of China’s great philosopher and teacher, drawn from the Analects, the Great Learning, the Doctrine of the Mean, and the Works of Mencius.

Tai Chi: Practice and Theory

This course combines the practice of Tai Chi with guidance on the deeper philosophical principles underlying the practice.

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