Harvard University offers free online course examining Buddhist scriptures

Harvard University’s course “Buddhism Through Its Scriptures” is available for free on their online learning platform.


“Buddhism Through Its Scriptures” is the third module of the HarvardX series “World Religions through their Scriptures.” Although the course is no longer interactive, all of the lecture material has been archived for public use.

The course is taught by Charles Hallisey, the Yehan Numata Senior Lecturer on Buddhist Literatures at the Harvard Divinity School. There are eight days of lessons presented through both video and text that can be completed on the user’s own time.

The course syllabus reads:

Whether you are new to the study of religion or the study of Buddhism or you have been studying it and/or practicing it for years, this course will provide you with the opportunity to become acquainted with a variety of Buddhist scriptures while guiding you to think about them—their contents as well as their places in Buddhist life—in new ways.

Through a combination of carefully selected readings, both scriptural and informational, as well as exposure to various forms of Buddhist practice such as meditation, art, devotional acts, and literary works, you will also learn how to interpret, reflect upon, and connect Buddhist scriptures to your own life and deepen your understanding of the the world as well as of Buddhism in the process.

Hallisey notes that unlike in Christianity or Islam, there is no central Buddhist text, but there are many scriptures and writings to be studied. Excerpts from the Lotus Sutra, The Sutra of Golden Light, and The Heart Sutra are all studied within the course, alongside many other Buddhist writings and associated articles.

You can find more information about the course here.