Research in Buddhist Studies

Buddhist Studies has a long history at the University of Pennsylvania with special focus on Indian, Chinese, and Japanese Buddhist traditions and more recently on Buddhism in Southeast Asia. Religious Studies graduate and undergraduate students specializing in Buddhist Studies are overseen by Justin McDaniel and Jolyon Thomas. The program’s special strengths in this area are in Theravada Buddhism, Pali and Buddhist-Hybrid Sanskrit literature, Buddhism in Laos and Thailand, Japanese Buddhism, early Chinese Buddhism and Taoism, ritual and magic, Buddhist monasticism and education, Manuscript Studies/Codicology, Material Culture, and Buddhist art (especially Thai, Indian, and Japanese). Both anthropological and textual approaches are highly encouraged.

Among Penn’s rich resources for the study of Buddhism are Paul Goldin, Linda Chance, Frank Chance, Victor Mair, and David Spafford in East Asian Studies, Julie Davis and Michael Meister in Art History, Daud Ali in South Asian Studies, Hsiao-wen Cheng in East Asian Language & Civilizations, and Jolyon Thomas and Justin McDaniel in Religious Studies. There are also professors at Temple University, West Chester University, Princeton University, Pennsylvania State University at Abibgton, and Haverford College in the Philadelphia area specializing in Buddhist Studies that regularly meet at Penn to discuss and help students in their study of Buddhism. Students also benefit from the University Library and the University Museum’s vast collections of Buddhist art and manuscripts.

Coursework and research using advanced language skills (esp. Sanskrit and Pali or Chinese and Japanese) are essential beginning in the first year of study. Before entering the program most applicants have completed at least two years of formal study in one or more of their language (either Japanese, Chinese, Sanskrit, Pali, Thai, Lao, Korean, or others) and by the beginning of the third year, they are expected to have strengths in their secondary languages, as well as to have passed their modern language reading exams in French and German (or in some cases Japanese, Portuguese or Dutch).

Interdisciplinary investigation is encouraged, and students typically take courses not only in RELS but also in East Asian Studies, South Asian Studies, Art History, Ancient History, or Anthropology. Theoretical interests can be explored in other departments as well, ranging from Political Science to Sociology. Likewise, in the second and third years, students have opportunities to gain teaching experience in religious traditions as TAs within the department and in multiple disciplines as TAs in other departments as well.

Students interested in applying to the program to work in this area are encouraged to contact Professor McDaniel ( or Professor Jolyon Thomas ( and also to consider other faculty whose interests might overlap with their own.