Buddhist Art as Visual Communication

Subject code ABS933
Lecturer Dr Elizabeth McDougal
Delivery mode Online, live
Duration 10 weeks
Next start date Visit timetable


Subject Overview

This subject teaches the knowledge and skills of interpretation that are needed to engage effectively with Buddhist art and material culture. The subject will be structured thematically across five days. It will start with a brief assessment of Buddhist visual culture, before presenting the evolution of the image of the historical Buddha Sakyamuni, including aniconic and symoptic representations. Other sessions will include an analysis of the characteristics and distinguishing qualities of diverse buddhas and bodhisattvas (with special attention to Avalokitesvara), symbols that convey the values and beliefs of Buddhism, the generation of merit through commissions, the visualisation of a deity, and the power of inscribed dharani and ‘seed’ syllables. There will be sessions devoted to the visual communication of Buddhist teachings, e.g., the Wheel of the Six Realms of Existence, the Pure Lands, and the mandala. Noted monks, lamas, and laymen, will be considered as well.

Learning Outcomes

  1. Analyse and critically evaluate the inter-relationships between Buddhist teachings and their visual expressions.
  2. Develop an ability to understand and analyse the function of images within the Buddhist framework.
  3. Develop an ability to understand and analyse Buddhist iconography.
  4. Demonstrate critical knowledge of the history, form and meaning of Buddhist art, symbols, and material culture
  5. Develop interpretative skills to apply to Buddhist material culture.
  6. Ability to assess the social impact and cultural significance of Buddhist visual culture.


  • Assessment 1: Review of preliminary reading (10%)
  • Assessment 2: Slide test (20%)
  • Assessment 3: Reflective journal (30%)
  • Assessment 4: Research paper (40%)


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