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The Asian Religions Area of the School of Religious Studies supports one of the largest teaching programs in Asian Religions in North America. The School of Religious Studies teaches more than 30 courses in all aspects of Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinese and Japanese religion from the basic introductory level to advanced graduate seminars. It has thriving M.A. and Ph.D. programs in Hinduism and Buddhism and teaches its own courses in Sanskrit and Tibetan languages.

In addition, the Department of East Asian Studies of McGill University teaches courses in Taoism and Confucianism, which complement the courses in Chinese and Japanese Religion taught in the School of Religious Studies.

Asia and its Religions

The study of Asian religion and culture is more and more becoming an essential element of the education of a global citizen. Asia contains more than 60% of the earth's people. The two largest countries in the world by population are China and India with more than a billion people each. After the United States, the second, third and fourth largest economies in the world are China, Japan and India, as measured by purchasing power parity. The Asian financial crisis of 1997 showed that the "butterfly effect" is true; the devaluation of the Thai bhat caused financial crisis in countries around the globe, including Russia, Brazil and the United States. One needs to understand Asia to understand both the international world today and Canada today. All the countries of Asia have come to the West. Not only is Vancouver predicted to become North America's first city with an Asian majority population, but every major city in Canada has significant Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean and other Asian populations.

Although several of the Asian religions have been in North America for long periods of time (the first Buddhist temple, for example, was opened in Vancouver in 1904), they originally were confined to ethnic communities and resided on the margins of mainstream Western culture. This changed in the 1960s when both Canada and the United States changed their former race-based immigration laws and adopted race neutral points-based immigration. Then in the 1970s, under Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Canada adopted a policy of official multiculturalism. Immigration from the Asian countries surged with the result that now in the major urban centres of Canada, one can easily find Hindu temples, Buddhist meditation centres, Sikh gurdwaras, and Chinese and Korean Christian churches. At the same time, the 1960s saw huge and dramatic challenges to conventional social attitudes. In the wake of this changes, Asian religions became increasingly an option for people in mainstream western culture.