Buddhist Studies

University of California, Berkeley

About the Program

The Berkeley Group in Buddhist Studies offers an interdisciplinary program of study and research leading to a PhD degree in Buddhist Studies. The group, which cooperates closely with the Departments of South and Southeast Asian Studies (SSEAS) and East Asian Languages and Cultures (EALC), emphasizes the study of Buddhism in its many forms within its Asian historical and cultural context.

The Group emphasizes the study of Buddhist texts in their original languages, as well as the appreciation of the historical, social, and cultural milieux from which the Buddhist textual legacy emerged. At the same time, students in the PhD program are encouraged to broaden and deepen their understanding of Buddhist phenomena by incorporating archaeological, ethnographic, and visual materials and perspectives.

The goal of our program is not only to provide students with the linguistic, methodological, and conceptual skills to produce significant new research on Buddhist phenomena but also to have students bring their research into dialogue with ongoing issues and concerns in the humanities writ large.

The PhD program in Buddhist Studies is designed for students who intend to become scholars and teachers at the university level.

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Admission to the University

Applying for Graduate Admission

Thank you for considering UC Berkeley for graduate study! UC Berkeley offers more than 120 graduate programs representing the breadth and depth of interdisciplinary scholarship. A complete list of graduate academic departments, degrees offered, and application deadlines can be found on the Graduate Division website.

Prospective students must submit an online application to be considered for admission, in addition to any supplemental materials specific to the program for which they are applying. The online application can be found on the Graduate Division website.

Admission Requirements

The minimum graduate admission requirements are:

  1. A bachelor’s degree or recognized equivalent from an accredited institution;

  2. A satisfactory scholastic average, usually a minimum grade-point average (GPA) of 3.0 (B) on a 4.0 scale; and

  3. Enough undergraduate training to do graduate work in your chosen field.

For a list of requirements to complete your graduate application, please see the Graduate Division’s Admissions Requirements page. It is also important to check with the program or department of interest, as they may have additional requirements specific to their program of study and degree. Department contact information can be found here.

Where to apply?

Visit the Berkeley Graduate Division application page.

Admission to the Program

Students wishing to enter the PhD program must have a master’s degree in a relevant field, typically East Asian, South Asian, or Southeast Asian studies. A master’s degree in religion is deemed relevant only if it includes significant training in an Asian language relevant to their intended area of research at the time of admission.

Applications are reviewed and ranked by the Buddhist Studies Admissions Committee in consultation with members of the Group in Buddhist Studies. The committee makes its selection on the basis of all the application materials—the transcripts, personal statement, letters of recommendation, writing sample, GRE scores, and so on. We play close attention to evidence of linguistic proficiency, knowledge of the field, writing skills, initiative, and potential for scholarly growth. We also consider whether or not the applicant's academic goals can be met by the group's faculty and program structure. Those chosen are recommended to the Graduate Division, which sets the number of students the group can admit, makes a final review of the applications, and issues an official letter of admission to the student. The number of students the group can admit is usually very small and admission is highly competitive.

Students thinking of applying to the PhD program are strongly encouraged to visit the Berkeley campus and meet the Buddhist Studies faculty and students prior to submitting their application. Students should contact the Graduate Adviser in advance of their visit for help in setting up faculty appointments and arranging to visit a graduate seminar.

The Graduate Application and supporting documents are submitted electronically; the online application becomes available in September for admission effective the following year. See the Graduate Division website for details. All applicants must use the online application.

Transcripts. Applicants will submit unofficial transcripts, GRE scores, and other admissions materials on-line as part of the application. Admitted students will be required to submit two copies of all official transcripts in envelopes sealed by the issuing institutions at a later date.

Letters of Recommendation. Three letters of recommendation are required. As part of the application you will have to submit the names and contact information for the letter writers. Letters in languages other than English should be translated into English, but the original letter, in the original language, must be included. The department recommends that letters of recommendation come from faculty members who can comment on the applicant's intellectual capacity, analytical skills, ability to write English, and general aptitude for scholarly work. Letters from nonacademic referees are rarely helpful. All letters must be submitted on-line by the recommenders no later than two weeks after the application deadline to ensure that they are included in the review process.

Academic Writing Sample. A writing sample in English must be included with the on-line application. The writing sample is intended to gauge an applicant's academic writing ability, and should be a paper that the student feels best represents the quality of his/her work. An ideal writing sample will be around 20 pages on a topic related to East Asian studies, but a paper on another topic or of a different length may be acceptable.

GRE Test Scores. All applicants are required to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Only scores from the past five years are acceptable. Applicants should plan to take the GRE General Exam well before the application deadline. To send an official score to Berkeley be sure to list the institutional code for Berkeley (4833).

Applicants from Abroad. International applicants are urged to examine closely the requirements for certification and translation of records and TOEFL requirements provided in the Graduate Application and the information on legal residency and fees.

Doctoral Degree Requirements

Application to Degree Programs

For admission to the graduate program, applicants must have completed an MA in one of the appropriate Asian languages or have equivalent language preparation. Prospective applicants without an MA or the equivalent may wish to apply to the Group in Asian Studies or to the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies.

Normative Time Requirements

Normative time to advancement: The total normative time to advancement is five years.
Normative time in candidacy: The total time in candidacy is two years.
Total normative time: The total normative time of the program is seven years.


BUDDSTD 200Proseminar in Buddhist Studies1
Electives: Eight graduate or upper division seminars, per approved study list, including the following:
Buddhist art history
Chosen regional breadth field
Chosen disciplinary field

A minimum of eight graduate seminars or upper division courses are required, all of which are chosen in consultation with the academic adviser. At least one seminar must be taken in the field of Buddhist art history. In addition, at least one seminar must be taken in each of the two cognate fields (see under Qualifying Exams). The art history course requirement can simultaneously fulfill the course requirement for the cognate disciplinary field in the event that said field is Art History.

All precandidates are required to enroll for 1 unit in the Buddhist Studies proseminar (BUDDSTD 200) each term they are registered, provided that the seminar is being offered. This seminar does not count toward the eight-course requirement. This seminar focuses on recent scholarship in the field, particularly interdisciplinary and cross-regional scholarship. It involves all Buddhist Studies faculty and students, and typically meets four times or so each semester.

All courses taken to fulfill the degree requirements, including the art history seminar, seminars taken to fulfill cognate field requirements, and the Buddhist Studies proseminar, must be taken for a letter grade.

Courses that satisfy the seminar requirement will be listed with the course title BUDDSTD and are often crosslisted with CHINESE, EALANG, JAPAN, SASIAN, and TIBETAN.

Language Study
An advanced facility in at least two Asian languages is considered a fundamental component of the PhD program in Buddhist Studies at Berkeley, but it is not an end in and of itself. Students are required to master the range of classical and modern languages required to pursue advanced research in their chosen field. Each student selects a primary language area. Determination of which additional languages are necessary for the student's course of study, and the procedures for the evaluation of proficiency in those languages, is determined by the mentoring committee in accordance with Graduate Division regulations. The following table is provided as a guideline.

  • Chinese: Classical and modern Chinese, as well as modern Japanese (as a research language), and a modern European research language (typically French).
  • Japanese: Classical (Bungo) and modern Japanese, as well as Classical Chinese/Kanbun, and a modern European research language.
  • Newari: Sanskrit and a modern research language.
  • Pali: Sanskrit and a modern research language (Sinhala or a Southeast Asian language recommended).
  • Sanskrit: Literary Tibetan and/or Classical Chinese, and a modern research language (Japanese, German, or French).
  • Tibetan: Sanskrit and/or Classical Chinese, as well as a modern research language (modern Chinese, Japanese, German, or French).
  • Southeast Asian Languages: Sanskrit and Pali, as well as a modern research language.

Annual Review
The mentoring committee conducts an annual review of the student's academic performance and progress toward the degree in the spring of each year, before the end of the spring term. Students should fill out the Graduate Division annual review form and provide the mentoring committee with all seminar papers written that year, as well as any other documentation deemed pertinent and requested by the committee. Should a student's performance be considered unsatisfactory, following consultation with the head graduate advisor and director of the program, the student will be placed on probation for one year and given the opportunity to improve his or her performance. If a student's performance is still considered unsatisfactory at the end of the probationary year, the student will be dismissed from the program.

Qualifying Examination and Dissertation Prospectus
The Graduate Studies Handbook states: "The intent of the qualifying examination is to ascertain the breadth of the student's comprehension of fundamental facts and principles that apply in their major fields of study and whether the student has the ability to think incisively and critically about the theoretical and the practical aspects of these fields."

The qualifying examination process consists of five stages: (1) constituting the qualifying examination committee and convening the qualifying examination colloquium, (2) taking the written examination in the Cognate Regional Field, (3) taking the written examination in the Cognate Disciplinary Field, (4) submission of the dissertation prospectus, (5) the qualifying oral examination.

Qualifying Examination Committee and Colloquium
The qualifying examination process in Buddhist Studies begins with a colloquium in which the student meets with his or her qualifying examination committee. This committee consists of four persons, namely the two or three members of the mentoring committee and one or two additional members selected for their expertise in the cognate fields. Three members of the examination committee must be members of the Group in Buddhist Studies. The colloquium is an opportunity to discuss the academic fields, content, structure, and timing of the exams.

Cognate Fields
The cognate exams consist of two written take-home examinations—one in each of the two "cognate fields."

  • 1. Cognate Regional Field: this exam is intended to reinforce the breadth of knowledge in the Buddhist traditions of Asia. Students of East Asian Buddhism will normally do this in the areas of South and/or Southeast Asian Buddhism, and vice versa.
  • 2. Cognate Disciplinary Field: this exam focuses on the student's primary region of study, but in a disciplinary field outside that of Buddhist Studies. Appropriate cognate disciplines include anthropology, art history, history, literature, philosophy, and so on. Thus a student of Chinese Buddhism might select Chinese art history, a student of Tibetan Buddhism might select the anthropology of Tibet, and so on.

Preparation for these exams should begin early in the student's coursework. In consultation with the mentoring committee, the students will select their two cognate areas and take at least one upper division course or graduate seminar in each area. Preparation for the qualifying exam continues with supplementary readings based on a bibliography prepared by the student in conjunction with the qualifying examination committee. This committee is responsible for setting the exam questions for the cognate written exams. The student is given 24 hours to write on a total of three questions for each exam. Each of the written exams is evaluated by all members of the examination committee.

Dissertation Prospectus
The prospectus should begin with a general review of the scholarship in the field and situate the thesis within that field. It should clearly articulate the thesis and program of research, identifying the available source material to be consulted. In framing their subject matter and thesis, students are expected to demonstrate their ability to synthesize philological, historical, and theoretical perspectives. The prospectus must include a chapter outline and a full bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Oral Qualifying Exam
The oral examination will occur shortly after the submission of the dissertation prospectus. It will focus on the content of the written cognate exams, the basic literature in the student's primary field, as well as the content and cogency of the prospectus.

The first written cognate exam is held no more than two months following the preparatory exam colloquium, and the second cognate exam is normally taken no more than two months after the first. The dissertation prospectus is normally submitted no more than two months following the second written exam. The oral exam is scheduled within two weeks of the submission of the dissertation prospectus. The entire process of qualifying cognate exams, prospectus, and oral should take about six months and should be completed by the end of the sixth term in the program.

Teaching Experience
Teaching experience is central to a student's intellectual and professional formation and critical for success on the job market. Every student in the Buddhist Studies program is expected to serve as a graduate student instructor for a minimum of two semesters during the course of their studies.

Constitution of the Dissertation Committee
The dissertation committee, consisting of three faculty members, is formed immediately following advancement to candidacy, following provisions set forth in the Graduate Studies Handbook.

Dissertation Defense
All dissertations in the Buddhist Studies program must be defended orally, following "Plan A" outlined in the Graduate Studies Handbook. The defense committee consists of five members, namely the existing three-member dissertation committee and two additional members. The defense must be scheduled for no less than two hours and must be open to the public.


Buddhist Studies

Contact Information

Group in Buddhist Studies

3413 Dwinelle Hall

Phone: 510-642-3480

Fax: 510-642-6031


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Head Graduate Advisor

Alexander von Rospatt, PhD (Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies)

347B Dwinelle Hall

Phone: 510-642-1610


Graduate Student Affairs Officer

Grant Tompkins

3414 Dwinelle Hall

Phone: 510-642-4497


Group Chair

Robert Sharf (Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures)

3121 Dwinelle Hall

Phone: 510-642-6369


Student Services Advisor

Presi Diaz

3413 Dwinelle Hall

Phone: 510-642-3480


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