Teaching Buddhist Philosophy in the College Classroom: “E-Prime” as a Pedagogical Tool

By Mark Dennis.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper will explore the use of “E-prime,” or writing without the verb “to be,” as a pedagogical tool for teaching college students the basic principles of Buddhist philosophy. It will begin with a brief introduction to Buddhist thought, focusing on its deconstruction or breaking down of that which exists in the phenomenal world—the person, material objects, words, and ideas—based on the assumption that each lacks an unchanging, essential core. The person, for example, exists as no more than a constantly changing aggregation of five qualities or skandhas. The belief in the “emptiness” of such phenomenal appearances has led Buddhist philosophers to generally “devalue” language, and thus to remain attentive to its limits and potential misuse. The latter includes the tendency among users of language to incorrectly impute stability to that which lies beneath or is pointed to by words: “Felix,” “earth,” “Somalia,” “mysticism.” This view of the limits of language resonates with D. David Bourland Jr.’s description of the “is of identity” (“Felix is a farmer”) and the “is of predication” (“The earth is round”), the two main uses of the verb “to be” that he and other proponents of E-prime reject. Although the logic and goals of Buddhist philosophy and E-prime differ in important ways, this point of resonance can be used in the classroom as an effective tool for teaching Buddhist thought and for helping students think critically about language, writing, and analysis. The paper will conclude with examples of specific exercises that can be used in the classroom.

Keywords: Buddhist Philosophy, Critical Thinking, Pedagogy, E-Prime

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 10, pp.137-140. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 474.254KB).

Mark Dennis

Visiting Assistant Professor, Religion Department, St. Peter, Minnesota, USA

I teach Buddhist philosopy, Zen Buddhism, and World Religions at Gustavus Adolphus College, a small liberal arts college located in southern Minnesota. My research focuses on Japanese Buddhism, particularly authorship, textuality, and canon formation.


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