CCHU9062 Arts and Humanities
Buddhist Visions in World Cinema

[This course is under the thematic clustera of ‘Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth’ and ‘The Quest for a Meaningful Life’ / ‘The Universe and the Question of Meaning’ .]


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

First semester (Sat)


Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 10
Film viewing 18
Reading / Self-study 40
Assessment: Essay writing 25
Assessment: Group project 15
Assessment: Quiz (incl preparation) 8
Total: 140

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Participation in lectures and tutorials 25
Critical essay 35
Group project 15
Mid-term essay / Quiz 25

Required Reading

This list is not exhaustive but representative of readings assigned during each lecture:

  • Cho, F. (2009). Buddhism. In J. Lyden (Ed.), The Routledge companion to religion and film (pp. 162-177). NY: Routledge.
  • Gethin, R. (1998). The foundations of Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [pp. 6-26]
  • Harvey, P. (2013). An introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, history and practices. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [pp. 39-49]
  • Larson-Harris, M. (2016). Amongst White Clouds. Journal of Religion and Film, 12(2), Article 7.
  • Loy, D. R. (2008). Money, sex, ear, karma: Notes for a Buddhist revolution. MA: Wisdom Publications. [pp. 15-30, 113-126, 139-152]
  • Powers, J. (2007). Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications. [pp. 31-56]
  • Rahula, W. (1959). What the Buddha taught. New York: Grove Press. [pp. vii-50, 67-75]
  • Suh, S. (2015). Silver screen Buddha: Buddhism in Asian and western film. NY: Bloomsbury Publishing. [pp. 8-10, 183-191]
  • Verchery, L. (2018). Blindness, blinking and boredom: Seeing and being in Buddhism and film. Religions, 9, 228.
  • Whalen-Bridge, J. (2014). What is a ‘Buddhist Film?’ Contemporary Buddhism: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 15(1), 44-80.

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