The Study of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon at UVa

Undergraduate Program

Introductory courses and undergraduate seminars on Tibetan Buddhism form a crucial component of the courses offered in the Department of Religious Studies. Each year hundreds of undergraduate students at UVa are introduced to Tibetan Buddhism by Germano, Schaeffer, and others in the Tibetan Buddhist Culture course (RELB 254).

Undergraduates can get a major in Religious Studies through taking ten 3 credit courses, and making Buddhism their primary or secondary focus. Primary focus requires three courses, while secondary focus requires two courses, but students can, in fact, take up to six of their ten courses on Tibetan topics if they so desire.

Undergraduates can get a minor in Religious Studies through taking five 3 credit courses, and making Buddhism their primary focus through taking at least two courses in it. If desired, the full five courses can be focused on Tibetan Buddhism.


UVa’s largest study programs on Tibetan topics are found in the Department of Religious Studies, where a broad variety of courses are offered. Professors David Germano and Kurtis Schaeffer teach Tibetan Studies full-time with a focus on Tibetan Buddhism and Bon religion. Other Buddhism-focused faculty include Erik Braun (Southeast Asia), Natasha Heller (China), Sonam Kachru (South Asia), and John Nemec (South Asia). There is also a steady stream of visiting professors and advanced doctoral students who teach courses on Tibetan culture within the department.

The gateway course is Tibetan Buddhist Culture (RELB 254), an introductory course which ranges over Tibetan religion from a variety of perspectives, and also offers a broader introduction to Tibetan history, literature, society, and environment. We then offer a variety of undergraduate seminars, including such offerings as Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy (RELB 348) by Schaeffer, Mysticism and Modernity by Germano (RELB 300), Tibetan Buddhist Tantra, and Tibetan Biographies. These are amplified by additional courses such as Schaeffer’s Buddhism in Fiction and Film (RELB 102).

We also offer advanced level seminars which can be taken by undergraduates or graduates. These include Schaeffer’s Tibetan Bonpo Thought (RELB 526), Tibetan Buddhist History (502), and Tibetan Buddhist Ritual (RELB 539), as well as Germano’s Imperial Tibet (RELB 538), Renaissance Tibet (RELB 549), Tibetan Buddhist Tantra (RELB 539), and Mysticism and Rhetoric (RELB 598).

Finally we offer intermediate Tibetan literary courses for students of Tibetan language, which includes Literary Tibetan V, VI, VII and VIII (RELB 547-8, 580-1), as well Advanced Tibetan Literature seminars with changing topical foci (RELB 826) ranging over a broad spectrum of literary genres and content.

The Department also offers study abroad programs for undergraduates and graduates, which are described in the separate study abroad programs section.