Play and Pedagogy in Buddhist Studies

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The importance of play in early years learning is well-attested, as skills and knowledge are developed through games and puzzles rather than imparted through didactic learning. Over time didactic learning takes over, until play is little used and even when it is students are typically conscious that it is an educational tactic rather than an apparently enjoyable end in itself. With adult learners, play - often in the form of role-play or perhaps a boardgame that demonstrates a feature of e.g. economics – tends to be used to stress-test knowledge and understanding and put it into action rather than impart learning ab initio.
This paper explores the potential for play to be used with adult learners learning Pali. A formal, philological, approach to learning Pali can be a barrier to those unfamiliar with inflected Indo-European languages, and while the rote learning of grammar and vocabulary may suit some learners, many find the idea overwhelming and off-putting. Immersing students in a ‘choose your own adventure’ style story, supported by other game activities, adds emotional investment to the learning experience and puts grammar and vocabulary into a context more relatable than lists of words and tables of paradigms. Note that I do consider these lists and tables to be crucial to an in-depth understanding of Pali, but they can be introduced at a much later stage.
Beginning with a brief pedagogical analysis of games and learning in Buddhism more generally (from canonical sources to the present day), this paper then discusses the materials developed to test the proof of concept of a gaming approach to learning Pali. The development of these materials sees Buddhist Studies straddling many disciplinary boundaries, including creative writing, art, game design, and education.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2023
EventUKABS 2023: Negotiating Boundaries in Buddhist Studies - St Andrews University, St Andrews, United Kingdom
Duration: 21 Jun 202321 Jul 2023


ConferenceUKABS 2023
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
CitySt Andrews
Internet address


  • Buddhist Studies
  • Pali Studies
  • language acquisition


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