De-Centering the Normative in the Introduction to Buddhism Class


  • Nathan McGovern University of Wisconsin-Whitewater



Buddhism, pedagogy, violence


In this article, I present an alternative method for teaching the Intro to Buddhism class. The standard way of teaching this class allows little room for non-normative aspects of Buddhism such as violence, and insofar as it does, it implicitly frames them as “aberrations” from “real Buddhism.” In my syllabus, I began by having students read The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh, which teaches them about Buddhist doctrine with a seductively modernist approach. At the mid-point of the semester, I then reveal to them that Thich Nhat Hanh’s book leaves out a great deal of what is found in actual traditional Buddhist practice, including reincarnation, gods, spirits, miracles, the supernatural, patriarchy, and violence. In the second half of the semester, we then study regional forms of Buddhism, with a special eye towards practice, including the practice of violence.

Author Biography

Nathan McGovern, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

Nathan McGovern is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. His research interests include ancient Indian religions, Thai religion, and the study of religious identity. He is the author, most recently, of The Snake and the Mongoose: The Rise of Identity in Early Indian Religion, which was published by Oxford University Press in 2019.


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How to Cite

McGovern, N. (2021). De-Centering the Normative in the Introduction to Buddhism Class. Buddhist Studies Review, 38(1), 59–67.