CCHU9062 Humanities
Buddhist Visions in World Cinema

[This course is under the thematic cluster of ‘Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth’.]


Course Description

Film is a universal medium that mirrors, documents and recreates moral, aesthetic, and spiritual sensibilities and experiences. It cuts across space, time, culture and language and marks their boundaries. It is an ideal platform for exploring how Buddhism envisions ethical ways of living and how it responds to wider questions such as: What is the relation between mind and body? Truth and illusion? Death and beyond? During this course we will explore how films produced in the East and West possess the power to bring to life existential themes, philosophical questions, and contemporary beliefs. Through an analysis of vision, sound, narrative, silence, and symbolism, we will gain a greater appreciation of Buddhist visions in World Cinema.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

    1. Describe and explain how basic doctrines of Buddhism (e.g. no-self, compassion, interdependent origination, etc.) have been represented and interpreted in assigned film case studies from Asia and the West.
    2. Critically view and methodically appraise films and documentaries about Buddhism and religion in general.
    3. Analyze how Buddhism (as institution, text, ritual, community, etc.) is represented and misrepresented in the cinematic medium.
    4. Recognize the relation between ‘audience’ and ‘film’, ‘mind’ and ‘vision’ in the construction of visible religious identities.
    5. Apply acquired skills of film criticism and interpretation to examine how films raise and handle questions of ethics and existential meaning.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Second semester (Wed)


Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 10
Film viewing 20
Reading / Self-study 50
Assessment: Essay writing 45
Total: 149

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Participation in lectures and tutorials 30
Critical essay 1 30
Critical essay 2 40

Required Reading

Selections will be drawn primarily from the following sources:

  • Blizek, W. L. (2009). The continuum companion to religion and film. New York: Continuum.
  • Brant, J. (2012). Paul Tillich and the possibility of revelation through film: A theoretical account grounded by empirical research into the experiences of filmgoers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Gethin, R. (1998). The foundations of Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Green, R. S. (2014). Buddhism goes to the movies: An introduction to Buddhist thought and practice. New York and London: Routledge.
  • Lewis, T. (Ed.). (2014). Buddhists: Understanding Buddhism through the lives of practitioners. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.
  • Lyden, J. (2003). Film as religion: Myths, morals and rituals. NY: NYU Press.
  • Mitchell, J. & Plate, B. (2007). The religion and film reader. London: Routledge.
  • Plate, B. (2008). Religion and film: Cinema and the re-creation of the world. London and New York: Wallflower.
  • Singer, I. (1998). Reality transformed: Film as meaning and technique. Cambridge: the MIT Press.
  • Trainor, K. (2001/2004). Buddhism: The illustrated guide (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Recommended Reading

  • Flesher, P., & Torry, R. (2007). Film and religion: An introduction. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
  • Harvey, P. (1990). An introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, history and practices. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.
  • Mitchell, D. W., & Jacoby, S. H. (2002/2014). Buddhism: Introducing the Buddhist experience (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Rahula, W. (1974). What the Buddha taught. New York: Grove Weidenfeld.
  • Strong, J. S. (2015). Buddhisms: An introduction. London: Oneworld Publications.
  • Whalen-Bridge, J. & Storhoff, G. (2014). Buddhism and American cinema. New York: SUNY.
  • Wright, M. (2007). Religion and film: An introduction. NY: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd.

Recommended Websites


Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Dr G. Halkias
Centre of Buddhist Studies, Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 2846
Email: halkias@hku.hk
Teacher(s) Contact
Dr G. Halkias
Centre of Buddhist Studies, Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 2846
Email: halkias@hku.hk