NOTES ON FINAL PAPER TOPICS
Final Paper topics provide an opportunity to reflect on readings, lectures, and discussion of the course materials. It is important that you provide direct quotations and/or page references to indicate where the ideas in your paper came from. This will also aid in being accurate and precise in your description of ideas, facts, and situations.
Comparisons: Similarities in Core Ideas; Differences in Practice
Most topics include comparison between two Asian religions, thinkers, or ideas. The key is to identify both similarities and differences. Oftentimes (but not always), there will be substantial similarities in core religious/philosophical ideas, such as that the ultimate truth (Dao, Dharma, Awakening, etc.) in some ways is beyond the grasp of linear thinking.
Differences are often found more in how these ultimate truths play out. For example, the Pure Land thinker Shinran advocated for a grassroots approach to practice, where lay people are equal to, and sometimes spiritually superior to, what he regarded as corrupt clergy. Dogen, while also emphasizing that anyone can practice meditation (sitting-only), he retreated to an elite mountain monastery for monks, indicating more a top-down, inspiration by leadership approach. (Topic 3)
Differences are sometimes indicated in terms of social organization. The “Butterfly” episode from the Daoist Zhuangzi and the “Goddess” chapter from the Vimalakirti Sutra both involve exchanging bodies (Zhuangzi with a butterfly and Goddess with the monk Sariputra). Yet, the social implications of these stories are very different. Zhuangzi’s butterfly expresses the Daoist sense of appealing to and modeling after nature. The Goddess’ exchange with the monk Sariputra is about gender and criticizing the social organization of the Buddhist community that is male-centered.
Notes on Topic 6: Krishna and Wonhyo
Passion, Transgresssion, and Liberation in Hinduism and Buddhism
Path to non-attachment
Krishna: Breaking the rules of duty (milk maidens) in order to expose false pretenses, ulterior motives
Wonhyo: The old monk leads him to break the precepts to realize true emptiness beyond the opposition of monastic purity and lay defilement
Possible Criticisms: These stories recount powerful males transgressing the normal rules of religious duty to achieve a higher state, but can they become the basis for the abuse of power? Who wrote these stories, and for whom?
Are there problems that are inherent to these stories, or is it more about interpretation?
Krishna and Wonhyo are among the most famous, most celebrated figures in their religions. What does this say about their stories and the place of transgression in their narratives?
Creative Topics: 7-9
Topics 7-9 represent opportunities to adopt a more creative approach. Nevertheless, you MUST PROVIDE QUOTATIONS FROM THE READINGS AND/OR PAGE REFERENCES, and your ideas need to show your understanding of the readings and your ability to see them from different perspectives.
These topics allow for a different style, but they can be challenging precisely because of that, one in which you are taking on a different voice.