The Silk Road

Spring 2008

Course #8046




Meeting Time/Place:

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5:35-7:05 PM, BA 214


Prof. Mark Blum; Office: Hum. 254E, 442-4183

Email: Mblum@albany.edu


Prof. Jim Hargett; Office: HUM 254C, 442-4233

E-mail: Jim_Harget@yahoo.com

Office Hours:

Blum: TUES & THUR, 3:00-4:00 PM (or by appointment)

Hargett: TUES & THUR, 4:15-5:15 PM (or by appointment)

Required Texts:

Damien Keown. Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996 (ISBN 978-0-19-285386-8).


Frances Wood. The Silk Road: Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002 (ISBN 0-5202-3786-2).


Sally Hoven Wriggins. The Silk Road Journey With Xuanzang. Boulder: Westview Press, 2004 (ISBN 978-0-8133-6599-2). This is the 2004 revised and updated edition.


Foreign Devils on the Silk Road, by Peter Hopkirk (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984). ISBN 0-8702-3435-8.


Note: These required texts are only available at Mary Jane Books, 215 Western Avenue, 465-2238. They have not been ordered through the Barnes and Noble Bookstore on campus.


Course Description and Introduction: Sometime around the first century A.D. ancient Indian civilization came into contact with ancient Chinese civilization. Buddhist missionaries traveled over the deserts and mountains of Central Asia, and by sea, to China, while Buddhist monks from China made pilgrimages to key Buddhist centers of learning in India. Merchants also traveled these routes. Was religion the primary impetus for contact? Or was it trade? This is one of the central questions we will focus on in this class, which is an introduction to the history of what is now commonly called the “Silk Road” (Chinese: sīchσu zhī 絲綢之路).

Organization of the Class: The course will be divided into four sections or units.

•     Part 1 will focus on geography, topography, and history, examining the mountain and desert regions that lie between India and China, with special attention on the sorts of people who lived along the Silk Road between 200 and 1000. One key question we will address is this portion of the course is: How should we define the term “Central Asia”?

•    Part 2 will focus on ancient India in general, and the history of Buddhism, and its transmission to Central Asia and then to China. Our main interest here is why Buddhism found an audience in Central Asia and China, how it got to Central Asia and China, and how Buddhism changed during this transmission process.

•     Part 3 of the course will concern Buddhist art forms.

•     Part 4 will introduce explorers and scholars from Europe, America, and Japan who traveled and studied the Silk Road in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and who removed many of its treasures to museums outside of China.

Prerequisites: Students in the class are expected to have some general knowledge of East Asian geography, history, and culture.


Grading: Your final grade will be determined by (1) your individual contributions to class discussions (20%); (2) your grades on the unannounced quizzes on the readings (10%); (3) your grade on the mid-term exam (20%); (4) your grade on the final exam (25%); and (5) your grade on the research paper (25%).The Research Paper: Each student in the class will prepare a research paper, 10-15 pages in length (12 point type, double-spaced, one-inch margins all around), on a subject related to the ancient Silk Road. The topic of the research paper must be approved in advance by one of the instructors.


Attendance and Makeups: Students are expected to attend all classes. Attendance will be taken at the start of each class. If you are late and miss the roll call, you will be marked absent. Two absences are allowed. An additional class cut beyond the allotted two absences will result in a "plus"/"minus" reduction in the final grade. In other words, if you cut three classes and earn a "B" in the course, your final grade will be reduced to B-; four class cuts would get you a C+, and so on. Makeups for missed exams will be given only if the absence was due to a documented medical or personal emergency, which must be verified by the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Studies.


Academic Integrity: The discovery of any cheating (including plagiarism or shared work of any kind) on an exam or written assignment will result in (1) immediate expulsion from the course with a failing grade; and (2) a report to appropriate SUNY officials. Appeals may be made through appropriate channels. Note: copying and submitting material(s) from the World Wide Web without citation is plagiarism!!!


How to do well in this course: (1) carefully read and prepare assignments before class; (2) attend class regularly and take detailed notes; (3) actively participate in classroom discussions (participation is essential in this class); and (4) always bring a copy of the day's reading assignment to class.


How to do poorly in this class: (1) miss lots of classes; (2) often arrive late for class; (3) never participate in class discussions; (4) wait until the last minute to start preparing the research paper.




THUR 24 Jan:

Introduction to the course.


TUES 29 Jan:

Geography, topography, and history (1): the land between India and China. Read: The Silk Road, 9-25; 26-35.


THUR 31 Jan:

Geography, topography, and history (2): network of commerce, spread of cultures, travel. Read: The Silk Road, 36-47.


TUES 5 Feb:

Buddhism (1): Religion without God; the Life of Buddha; Karma and Transmigration. Read: Buddhism, viii-x, xiii, and 1-45.


THUR 7 Feb:

Video Presentation on the Tang dynasty (618-907) city of Chang'an and the Silk Road


TUES 12 Feb:

Buddhism (2): Four Noble Truths; Mahāyāna, Part 1. Read: Buddhism, 46-72.


THUR 14 Feb:

Buddhism (3): Mahāyāna, Part 2; Buddhism leaves India: where, when, why, how? Read: Buddhism, 73-87


TUES 19 Feb:

No class (Winter Break/President's Day).


THUR. 21 Feb:

Buddhism (4): From Alexandria to Nara; The Silk Road as a Religious Thoroughfare; The Kushan Dynasty; Kumārajīva. Read: The Silk Road, 36-42, 91-100; Foreign Devils, 22-28.


TUES 26 Feb:

Buddhism (5): The Buddhist Transformation of China and the Chinese Transformation of Buddhism. ERES file.


THUR 28 Feb:

Xuanzang (1) life and times; details of trip, crossing Central Asia; arrival in India. Read: Xuanzang, chapters 1 through 6 (pp. 1-118).


TUES. 4 Mar:

Xuanzang (2): travels in India; the trip home to China; translation work; Record of the Western Regions; legacy. Read: Xuanzang, chapters 7 through 12 (pp. 119-227).


THUR. 6 Mar:

Commerce (1): what products were shipped where?; importance of silk. Read (on ERES): Susan Whitfield, Life Along the Silk Road, 27-54.


TUES. 11 Mar:

Commerce (2):  how commerce impacted the spread of Buddhism. The Silk Road, 61-74; 75-87.


THUR. 13 Mar:

Midterm examination


TUES.  18 Mar:

Art (1): Indian Buddhist Art: aniconic and iconic Buddhism. Read & View: ERES file: Indian Buddhist Art; The Silk Road, p. 99.


THUR. 20 Mar:

Art (2): Turfan & Kuche. Read & View: ERES file: Art of Turfan & Kuche


TUES. 25 Mar:

No class (spring break)


THUR. 27 Mar:

No class (spring break)


TUES. 1 Apr.

Art (3): Dunhuang. Read & View: ERES file: Art of Dunhuang; The Silk Road, p. 90. Preliminary bibliography for research paper due at 5:35 PM sharp!


THUR. 3 Apr:

Foreign Devils (1): (Sir) Aurel Stein. Read: Foreign Devils on the Silk Road, 32-43; 44-53; 68-110.


TUES: 8 Apr.

Foreign Devils (2): Von Le Coq. Read: Foreign Devils on the Silk Road, 125-133; 134-144; 145-155. Research paper draft due at 5:35 PM sharp today! Minimum 10 pages (not including footnotes and bibliography).


THUR. 10 Apr:

Foreign Devils (3) – Paul Pelliot, Langdon Warner, and the Great Game. Foreign Devils on the Silk Road, 111-124; 156-176; 177-189; 190-208; 209-222; 223-241.


TUES. 15 Apr:

Sūtra reading. Download & Read: ERES file: Sutra Readings.


THUR. 17 Apr:

Research papers due at 5:35 PM today!!


TUES. 22 Apr:

Research paper presentations


THUR. 24 Apr:

Research paper presentations


TUES. 29 Apr:

Research paper presentations


THUR. 1 May:

Research paper presentations


TUES.  6 May:

Research paper presentations





TUES. 13 May:

FINAL EXAM: 5:45-7:45 PM (in our usual classroom, BA 214)