Life of the Buddha in Tibet: Literature and Art in Place

A project to examine the life of the Buddha through the literary and visual sources of Jonang Monastery in western Tibet. Buddhism in Tibet is frequently characterized as having formed around the activities of charismatic teachers, great founding figures such as Padmasambhava (8th c.) and Milarepa (11th c.), or more historical luminaries. In its most extreme form, this led to the appellation Lamaism, suggesting that Tibet’s religious traditions were in some way divorced from the figure of the Buddha altogether. Such a characterization is, of course, at odds with Tibet’s religious traditions, where the life of Buddha Śākyamuni formed an important early theme in narrative texts, ritual practices, and the visual arts.

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Buddhism on the Border: Religious Culture on the Frontier of Tibet and Nepal

An Investigation of the unique religious communities of southern Tibet through an analysis of printed and manuscript texts, their local production, and trans-national dissemination.

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Religious Murals of Bhutan in Context

A project to document and analyze some of Bhutan’s best preserved temple murals in their historical, religious, and institutional contexts.

Biographical Inscriptions as Literary Relics

Kossak & Singer, Secret Visions 1998. pl. 16 verso

Examining of the use of stūpa-shaped biographical inscriptions in the consecration of Tibetan painted portraits.What are the contours of Tibetan life writing? What are its limits, its trajectories? This project questions received notions about the forms and functions of Tibetan biographical literature by shifting from a strict analysis of narrative content toward an emphasis on the material forms of individual texts and the contexts in which they were created and understood.

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Religion and the Literary in Tibet

A five-year seminar at the American Academy of Religion, 2010-2014. The contemporary academic study of Tibetan religions has typically approached religious literature as a source to be mined for data about religion. In so doing the field frequently uses the term “literature” to refer to something that contains information, but has no significance in its own terms. This seminar shifts focus from literature conceived of as an inert container to literature as an active process that is itself conceptually rich. We will collectively engage in new research on the forms, structures, and styles of Tibetan literature and their effects on religious discourse and practice. In so doing we will bring into high relief the very question of how the category of “literature” is heuristically productive for the future of the study of Tibetan religion. We plan to address this central question from two directions:  from the perspective of contemporary discussions of what constitutes literature, and also from that of traditional Tibetan theoretical work, which itself has explored how some kinds of writing may be distinguished from others in terms of their style, level of self-consciousness, and intentional impact on the religious life of the reader.

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The Role of Karṇatantra (snyan brgyud) Literature in 11-13th Century Tibetan Buddhism

The role that the karṇatantra, “aural tantra,” literature played in the transmission of Buddhist traditions from India and in the formation of new religious and institutional communities in Tibet.

Buddhist Cultures of the Book: Perspectives and Prospects

A proposed international conference to explore the material forms of Buddhist manuscripts and printed books, their production, publication, collection, dissemination. It aims to expand our understanding of what Buddhist texts are, what they do, and how they work while highlighting the role textual materials play in the creation of meaning and memory within individual communities.