Religion and the Literary in Tibet

TibetanMsA continuing collaborative workshop to study the aesthetic, rhetorical, and affective dimensions of Tibetan religious writing. The workshop grew out of a five-year seminar of the American Academy of Religion (2010-2014) and includes a series of spring meetings outside the AAR.

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 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 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 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.

The seminar will culminate in the publication of an edited volume of essays on the forms and functions of Tibetan religious writing, tentatively entitled Reading Tibetan Literature. This, it is proposed, will reflect a more nuanced understanding of indigenous literary production and criticism, and the ways in which Tibetan authors have self-consciously developed forms and approaches to writing that have religious meaning, than has previously been possible. It will also set forth a broader and more comprehensive history of Tibetan religious writing – and what might count as “literature” within that history – than has yet been attempted.

Workshop meetings convened to date:

2017    Tibetan Literature Working Group Meeting on Kāvya and Poetics, Latse Library, New York, Spring

2015    Tibetan Literature Working Group Meeting, University of California, Berkeley, October 16-18

2014    Translators and Love Letters, AAR Religion and the Literary in Tibet Seminar Year 5

2013    Ritual and Historical Literature in the 15th-17th Centuries: AAR Religion and the Literary in Tibet Seminar Year 4

2013    Tibetan Literature Working Group Meeting, Harvard University, 19-21 April

2012    Philosophical Prose: AAR Religion and the Literary in Tibet Seminar Year 3

2012    Tibetan Literature Working Group Meeting, University of Toronto, 27-29 April

2011    Poetry in the 11th-13th Centuries: AAR Religion and the Literary in Tibet Seminar Year 2

2011    Tibetan Literature Working Group Meeting, University of Virginia, 4-6 March

2010    Tibetan Literature Up to the Twelfth Century: AAR Religion and the Literary in Tibet Seminar Year 1

Co-administered with Kurtis Schaeffer.

More information on the seminar may be found HERE.