The Department of Buddhist Studies was established in 1957 as follow up to the action initiated by the Government of India on the occasion of the celebration of 2500 years of Buddhism on 24 May 1956. This department, the first of its kind in India, was established with the primary objective of conducting research at the advanced level in various subjects related to Buddhist Studies. As part of this initiative, a Chair of Buddhist Studies was created. Professor P.V. Bapat, a scholar of international repute, was the first scholar to occupy this chair. Professor Bapat initially began his work of organizing the Department of Buddhist Studies under the overall supervision of the Department of Philosophy which was headed by Professor N.V. Banerjee at that time.
For the first few years, the Department had a staff strength of one professor, two research fellows, one stenographer, and an office attendant. Under Professor Bapat, University Grants Commission was approached for initiating action to provide an independent identity to the Department with its own library and more academic as well as non-academic staff. As a result of these efforts, the University Grants Commission provided one reader, three lecturers, two part-time lecturers and, one research assistant were sanctioned. However, the Department continued to function as part of the Department of Philosophy till 1962 when it began to function independently as a full-fledge department of the University of Delhi.
The Department began to admit full-time research scholars from the year 1962 onwards for the degrees of Ph.D. M.Litt. Later, post-graduate Certificate and Diploma courses each of one-year duration in Pali language and Literature were introduced in the years 1967 and 1968 respectively. Likewise post-graduate Certificate and Diploma courses in Tibetan Language and Literature each of one year duration were introduced in 1968 and 1969 respectively. The Department began to bring out its own annual research Journal Buddhist Studies in 1974. The year 1979 was a landmark when a two-year full-time M.A course in Buddhist Studies was introduced. In 1981, M.Litt. was replaced by M.Phil. course. The Department received the status of Department of Special Assistance (DSA) in 1989 from the University Grants Commission. Under this scheme, various facilities in the department were further expanded and now the department hopes to become Centre of Advanced Study at the end of third phase of the DSA Programme. Under the Assistance for Strengthening of Infrastructure for Humanities and Social Sciences (ASIHSS) scheme of the University Grants Commission awarded in the year 2006, the Department has been able to acquire sufficient technical and infrastructural facilities to be able to function as a competitive academic institution striving for excellence.
Apart from within India, students of as many 37 different nationalities have studied and/or done research at the Department of Buddhist Studies. A large number of the alumni of this Department hold positions of eminence in different parts of the world. The Department takes pride in having internationally known academic staff.