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Trinity Term 2020

Thursday 18 June, 1:00-2:00pm, Zoominar, Stephen Christopher Johnson (Kyoto University): The Pragmatism of Leftist Love and Conservative Contributions among Tibetans in Japan

This lecture outlines the contrasting poles of Japanese support for the Tibetan diaspora. To one side, Japanese women seek healing and self-transformation by travelling to India and Tibet, dating or marrying Tibetan men, studying Tibetan Buddhism, volunteering in Tibet support groups, and overall participating in the preservation of Tibetan culture in multifarious ways. Their self-narratives reveal an overall teleology of brokenness to belonging and restored health. Their accounts raise questions about how the Tibetan diaspora intersects with Japanese subcultures of healing, spirituality and left-leaning multiculturalism.

To the other side, the Tibetan diaspora in Japan has, from its basic inception in 1965, received ideological and financial backing from right-leaning, anti-CCP, pan-Asianist organizations and individuals. Their support raises questions about the ethics of charitable giving when intentions run counter to the Middle Way advocated by the Tibetan Government. By analyzing these two poles of Tibetan support – culturally liberal and politically rightist – this lecture seeks to situate the Tibetan diaspora in the unique sociopolitical conditions of Japan, which contrasts with Euro-America in important ways.

Thursday 11 June, 5:00-6:00pm, Zoominar, Olaf Czaja (Academy of Sciences and Humanities Göttingen): The Panchen Lama's New Clothes: The Politics of Robes in Sino-Tibetan Relations in the 18th Century

In the second half of the 18th century, the 6th Panchen Lama traveled to China to take part in the celebration of Qianlong’s birthday. During his journey and at his arrival, he received numerous gifts such as precious garments and jewelry from the Chinese emperor. By imperial decree, paintings of the newly robed Tibetan hierarch were made, serving for rituals of veneration.

In this talk, I will discuss these paintings, especially the material objects depicted, and contextualize it by putting it in the framework of bestowing robes of honor in the pan-Asian tradition.

Thursday 4 June, 5:00-6:00pm, Zoominar, Lucia Galli (CRCAO, Paris): Fictional Facts or Factual Fiction? The Social Reality behind Kha stag ʼDzam yag’s "Diary" and Lhag pa Don grub’s "Life of a mule driver"

Cultural meanings and socio-historical realities hide in the interstices between literature and history, and narrative indisputably plays a central part in both fictional and factual writings. While the role of historians as “fiction-makers” has been theorised by Hayden White as far back as 1974, the question of whether a novel gives us access – albeit in its own peculiar way – to the same kind of truth that we express in our assertions about states of affairs in the world is still a much disputed ground.

This presentation deals with questions of narrative’s truth by analysing and comparing two different Tibetan texts, namely Kha stag ʼDzam yag’s Diary (nyin deb) and Lhag pa Don grub’s novel The Life of a Muleteer (Drel paʼi mi tshe). In questioning the arbitrary categorisation that will have these texts placed at the opposite ends of an imaginary clear-cut “fiction”- “nonfiction” divide, I will first bring to the fore the fictional aspects of the diary narrative and their function in increasing our understanding of indigenous representations of the self, and then examine the factual nature of Lhag pa Don grub’s work, largely based on the author’s memories and personal experiences.

Thursday 28 May, 5:00-6:00pm, Zoominar, Pema Choedon (University of Tartu, Estonia): The Nechung Oracle: Divine Possession and its Status in the Tibetan Diaspora

Nowadays, Tibetans in the diaspora are increasingly conscious of what they consider as their ‘culture,’ and certain cultural elements are therefore crucial in their identity formation. Today the Gnas chung rgyal po, known among Tibetans as “the state oracle of Tibet,” is one of their most important cultural traditions. Nevertheless, it has become the object of controversy, and some factions are wholly opposed to the oracular practice. In my presentation, I will discuss questions concerning the contemporary relevance of this institution: Why is the Nechung Oracle still so important for Tibetans in the 21st century? Why are some Tibetans against the practice? And in what way is the Nechung Oracle one of the Tibetan identity markers within the diaspora communities?

Thursday 21 May, 5:00-6:00pm, Zoominar, Ian MacCormack (Berkeley University, California): The Mortality of the Dalai Lama and its Scriptural Sources: A Study in Tibetan Buddhist Political Theology

In this talk, I’ll share some of my work in progress on the divine kingship of the 5th Dalai Lama. In particular, I am currently focusing on the problem of the Dalai Lama’s mortality—that is, the question of how to come to terms with his suffering and death, in light of the association between Tibetan kingship and the deity Avalokiteśvara. My sources are late-17th-century texts written by the Desi Sangyé Gyatso, who wrote extensively on the 5th Dalai Lama’s joint divinity and mortality.

For the sake of context, I’ll offer a few remarks about the Desi, his texts, and the general contours of his overall argument about the Dalai Lama. Mostly, I want to call attention to the specific Buddhist ideas and scriptural sources that the Desi used to make sense of the Dalai Lama’s apparent mortality. He claimed, somewhat paradoxically, that the Dalai Lama was a perfected Buddha who was nevertheless still subject to karma that required further purification.

In addition to their value for Tibetan intellectual and political history, my larger aim in delving into these buddhalogical arguments is to think about the Desi as a theorist of Buddhist kingship, one whose efforts to clarify a basic theological-political dilemma may also speak to larger conversations about the dual constitution of royal authority.

Thursday 14 May, 5:00-6:00pm, Zoominar, Kati Fitzgerald (Ohio State University): Preliminary Practices: Bloody Knees, Calloused Palms and the Transformative Nature of Women’s Labor

In this paper, I explore the Preliminary Practices of a specific group of Tibetan Buddhist women in Bongma Mayma, a rural area of Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province. I focus specifically on the nuns and lay women who utilize this set of teachings and practices. The Preliminary Practices not only initiate practitioners into a specific tradition (that of the Drikung Kagyu and more specifically the Amitabha practices of this lineage), but also more fundamentally, into Vajrayana Buddhism as it is practiced in contemporary Tibet. Although monks and male lay practitioners in this region also tend to perform the same Preliminary Practices, I focus specifically on women because of their unique relationship with bodily labor.

Thursday 7 May, 5:00-6:00pm, Zoominar, Christopher Bell (Stetson University, Florida): Writing about the Nechung Oracle

The Dalai Lama has sought and trusted the advice of the Nechung Oracle for centuries. In that time, this powerful office has involved the Tibetan Buddhist protector deity Pehar, or his emanations, to possess a human medium and offer prophetic counsel periodically. But the mechanisms through which the institution of Nechung grew, and the contours of the close relationship between the bodhisattva and the god, have yet to receive sustained attention.

The speaker will first outline the growth of the Nechung cult through three lenses—mythical, ritual, and institutional—before discussing the often obscure process of book publication as he makes his way through its final stages with this project.

Thursday 30 April, 5:00-6:00pm, Zoominar, Per Kværne (University of Oslo): The sku bla of the Tibetan emperors and its metamorphosis in Yungdrung Bön

In 2015 Nathan Hill published an important article on the Old Tibetan term sku bla, concluding, after having discussed the attempts of earlier scholars to interpret it, that it should be understood as a spiritual double of the Tibetan emperor, and that the cult of the sku bla confirmed the loyalty of important vassals of the monarch.

In the late 12th-century Yungdrung Bön text Grags pa gling grags, a deity that has a special relationship to the Tibetan ruler plays a prominent part in the narrative of the Tibetan kings. However, it is not called sku bla, but 'gur lha, a term that would seem to be unknown in the imperial period. Its characteristics and functions partly overlap with those of the sku bla, but to a significant extent also those of the post-imperial yul lha. My paper will focus on a study of the 'gur lha, and suggest why this otherwise somewhat obscure term was given prominence in the narrative of the Grags pa gling grags.

Hilary Term 2020

Wednesday 26 February, 6:00-7:00pm, The Florey Room, Ann Tashi Slater, Dreams, Memories, Journeys: The Story of a Tibetan Family.

Ann Tashi Slater’s research and writing on her Tibetan family history investigate identity and cultural legacy, dialogue across generations and borders, and the responsibility of individual and collective memory. Slater will read from her work and discuss her family history from 1920s Tibet to twenty-first-century Darjeeling—including the friendship between her great-grandfather, S.W. Laden-La, and the Thirteenth Dalai Lama—offering a unique look at Tibetan social and political life in Darjeeling and Lhasa, as well as vanishing traditions.

Michaelmas Term 2019

Thursday 31 October, 5:00-6:00pm, Lecture Room 1, Oriental Institute, Jonathan Samuels (University of Oxford): The beauty of conflicting narratives: questions about a Tibetan medieval encounter and its relation to history

Ambiguity, it might be said, is somewhat antithetical to the view of the world projected in Tibetan religious histories and narratives. They deal in certainty; clearly defined identities, affiliations, and motives. The invitation such writings extend, that of entering the world of the unambiguous and unequivocal, is one that many academics seem keen to accept. But even they, occasionally, may be presented with a case that challenges notions of certitude. What should be the response when faced with competing accounts of an event? Is the task simply to identify the ‘correct’ one; to separate truth from falsehood? Should we consider the possibility of multiple versions of the truth? Should the idea of seeking a single, reliable, historical version of events be discarded altogether?

In this talk I shall touch on aspects of my current research, investigating a public encounter and disputation that occurred in medieval Tibet, between two renowned religious figures (commonly referred to these days as mKhas grub rje and Bo dong Paṇchen). Not only is the medieval Tibetan institution of disputation a new area of research, but in this situation, we are unusually faced with competing historical accounts (perhaps even eye-witness ones) of what transpired. The ‘beauty’ of this situation, in my estimation, is that it forces us to engage with ambiguity, question the nature of our own expectations, and through introspection, as much as consideration of ‘historical facts’, to reach something approaching a realistic view of the past.

Thursday 7 November, 5:00-6:00pm, Lecture Room 1, Oriental Institute, Harmandeep Kaur Gill (University of Aarhus): Coming to terms with old age, loneliness and death in Tibetan exile

When the first Tibetans escaped into exile in 1959, they hoped to return to Tibet within a few years. However, today they find themselves growing old in exile. Elderly Tibetans lead lives often characterised by uncertainty, partly due to their status as “refugees” in both India and Nepal, but particularly due to the large on-migration in recent years of exile-Tibetan youth to Western nations. This has left many Tibetan elders alone in the last phase of their lives. While the care of parents in old age were responsibility of their children and in-marrying family members in traditional Tibetan societies (Goldstein and Beall, 1997), in exile, old age homes have become the last resort for many. As research among elderly Tibetans in exile suggests, spending the last phase of life at an old age home or alone in private homes is regarded as something unwanted and even shameful (Wangmo 2010; Vasstveit, 2016; Choedup, 2018) among Tibetans. At stake, is not only their well-being in the last phase of this life, but within the context of their Tibetan-Buddhist faith, also their next life.

In this talk, I will present on my PhD project which explores the experiences of old age among elderly Tibetans in the light of these shifting circumstances, drawing upon one year of fieldwork among elderly Tibetans in Dharamsala, India.

Thursday 14 November, 5:00-6:00pm, Lecture Room 1, Oriental Institute, Barbara Gerke (University of Vienna): Artisanship and “Potency-in-Becoming”: Making Medicines in Sowa Rigpa

This lecture presents preliminary findings of the current 3-year FWF-funded research project on “Potent Substances in Sowa Rigpa and Buddhist Ritual” (2018-2021), which Barbara Gerke and her main collaborator Jan van der Valk work on at the University of Vienna. With a focus on artisanship in Tibetan medical and ritual contexts, the project analyses what makes a substance potent and how potency is enhanced through medicine making, or menjor (sman sbyor), and ritual consecration. Ethnographic examples from small-scale pharmacies in Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh, India, underline how amchi engage with various notions of potency, or nüpa (nus pa), while processing substances for use in their multicompound medicines.

One of the key arguments is that the ability to direct potency to suit varying therapeutic needs through menjor as well as maintaining skilled flexibility when working with substances in changing environments indicate the core of Sowa Rigpa understandings of potency as dynamic acts of making and becoming. For the analysis of what makes a substance potent, theoretical approaches by anthropologist Tim Ingold and historian of science Pamela Smith will be considered.

Thursday 21 November, 5:00-6:00pm, Lecture Room 1, Oriental Institute, Martin Hanker (Charles University, Prague): Creative Agency of Tibetan Youth feat. Changes of Modernity: The Perspective of Tibetan hip-hop

Oral and music traditions were always vital parts of Tibetan culture and naturally became one of the key elements in the construction of general Tibetan identity. In the 80s, Tibetan pop music had bashfully appeared alongside the modern folk music, but since then, it struggled to keep up with its global competition and rendered itself rather unappealing to the urban youth, the “gen Y” of China.

Having said that, when the hip-hop culture entered “the Snowy Land,” it broke some of the common stereotypical imagery about Tibetans. Albeit superimposed at first, hip-hop has quickly established itself as a valuable currency of modernity by blending the “Tibetan” with the “global”. What started as a DIY urban movement in the early 2000s became a fully-fledged subculture capable of changing the course of Tibetan youths’ identity. As a result, both the Western and Chinese perceptions of the Tibetans were subjected to change and hip-hop was successfully adapted by this rising “new generation” of Tibetans (to paraphrase Dhondup Gyal’s poem). Hip-hop’s role as a statement-delivering medium often employed by the youth of minoritised social groups across the globe, together with its deep connection to performance art and poetry, might be the reasons which predetermined its success at the “roof of the world”.

By recognising Tibetan hip-hop both as a tool and an object of my research, the objective of my research is to provide a new perspective and insight into the identity and agency of young Tibetans residing in urban spaces, hence better understand the tension between tradition and modernity in new cultural production. Moreover, liberating from solely Tibet-centric understanding and acknowledging that Tibetan hip-hop is not an isolated phenomenon in Asia helps us to recognise certain underlying principles featuring in other areas. Since my research is technically at the onset, I would like to welcome colleagues from different backgrounds to comment on it and possibly even redirect some of my focus or methods.

Thursday 28 November, 5:00-6:00pm, The Florey Room, Geoffrey Samuel: Tibetan and Western Theories of Psychiatric Illness: The Subtle Body, the Autonomic Nervous System and the Predictive Coding Hypothesis

An important class of Tibetan medical syndromes are associated with imbalance in rlung (prāṇa), the quasi-material substance circulating in the ’subtle body’ of channels and chakras of Tibetan Tantric yoga. These syndromes (srog rlung, snying rlung, khrag rlung) cover areas classified in Western medicine as depression, anxiety and the like, but also have physiological aspects.

I look at a number of Western scientific frameworks which might be compared or related to these Tibetan ideas. In particular, the recent development of the predictive coding (predictive processing) approach in neuroscience offers the possibility of seeing both these syndromes, and the practices of Tantric yoga, in terms of predictive coding processes within the autonomic nervous system.

Such an approach also links up with recent work applying predictive coding to autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, and other mental health issues. It provides an interesting example of possible translation between two apparently very different explanatory systems, one (Western) which operates in terms of physiology and neurology, the other (Tibetan) which gives a strong role to consciousness as well as to the body.

Trinity Term 2019

Hilary Term 2019

Friday 15 February, 6:00-7:00pm, Seminar Room 2, Yangten Rinpoche Gelug Education. Renewal and Continuity

Michaelmas Term 2018


Trinity Term 2018

Friday 4 May, 4:00-5:00pm, Florey Room, Prof. Vesna Wallace (University of California, Santa Barbara) will give a talk on "The Kalacakratantra's Eschatology and related 'pho ba practices in Mongolia"

This lecture will discuss Mongolian rhetorical strategies of promoting the legends of Śambhala and eschatological war that proliferated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and 'pho ba ritual practices that were developed on the eve of the Communist revolution and shortly after in the face of the immanent peril of Buddhism in Mongolia.

Friday 4 May, 5:30-7:00pm, Buttery, Dr Theresia Hofer's book Medicine and Memory in Tibet: Amchi Physicians in an Age of Reform has recently been published. Please join us for the book launch.

Tuesday 15 May, 5:30-7:00pm, Florey Room, Prof. Klaus-Dieter Mathes (University of Vienna) will give a talk entitled "Mountain Cult and Religious Geography in Dolpo (Nepal): A Guide to Crystal Mountain Dragon Roar"

'Crystal Mountain Dragon Roar' is a mountain in Dolpo, Nepal, that is sacred to the Buddhists and Bonpos alike. This talk will discuss how the cult and religious geography of Crystal Mountain developed and present a documentation of the big Shey Festivals at the foot of Crystal Mountain in the years 2000 and 2012.

Monday 18 June: Conference on Military Culture in Tibet during the Ganden Phodrang Period (1642-1959): The Interaction between Tibetan and Other Traditions. Conveners: Dr George FitzHerbert and Dr Alice Travers (CNRS, CRCAO).

Hilary Term 2018

Friday 9 February, Wolfson, LWA, 7:30-ca. 9:30pm: Film screening: "The Unmistaken Child" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiBe1h2Qleg).

This documentary tells the story of Geshe Zopa's search for the reincarnation of his teacher. Geshe Zopa will be present, there will be an opportunity for a Q&A at the end.

Thursday 22 February, Oriental Institute, 5-6pm: Prof. Charles Ramble (EPHE, Paris) will give a lecture on "A Blessing for the Land": the Rediscovery of a Buddhist Nunnery in Highland Nepal.

In Nepal's Mustang District, on the right bank of the Kali Gandaki river facing the large settlement of Tshug, is a low hill known as Gompa Gang, the "convent ridge". Standing on the ridge are the ruins of a Buddhist site, Künzang Chöling. Until recently, nothing else was known about the building beyond the fact that it had once been a nunnery. This situation has now changed significantly with the discovery of the archives of the convent and the autobiography of its founder. Thanks to these materials we are able to reconstruct a substantial part of the life of Künzang Chöling, from its foundation in the 1680s to the dissolution of the religious sorority in the early twentieth century.

Saturday 24 February, Wolfson College, Haldane Room, from 7pm: Join us for Losar - the Tibetan New Year Party with Tibetan live music, dancing, and traditional Tibetan food. All are welcome!

Thursday 1 March, Oriental Institute (Pusey Lane), 5-6pm: Emma Martin (National Museums Liverpool) will give a talk on Making Diplomatic Sense of Things: Tibet, the British and the Materiality of State Occasions (1906-1914)

Abstract: Objects and the wider materiality of diplomatic encounters still remain superfluous to requirements for the majority of historians who focus on moments of political discussion and colonial governance. This paper reveals their part in negotiating contact, in managing (and imagining) notions of civility, generosity and prestige, and in providing object-based knowledge of people and places that had yet to be incorporated into diplomatic networks. It specifically focuses on the role of Tibetan objects during British ceremonial occasions in India and the material features of state-making. Using colonial archives and Tibetan objects associated with several well known diplomatic encounters Emma Martin argues that Tibetan objects are responsible for shifts in colonial state-making practices. She will highlight the unsettling nature of Tibetan objects and what changes they affect when they come into contact with colonial administrators who are unfamiliar with their potential meanings. - Emma Martin is Senior Curator, Ethnology at National Museums Liverpool and Lecturer in Museology at University of Manchester. Her research focuses on object-led histories of empire and specifically the British-Tibetan encounter of the early twentieth century.

Michaelmas Term 2017

Friday 20 October, 7:30pm, Wolfson College, LWA: Film screening of Akong - a Remarkable Life. For information on the film see https://www.facebook.com/AKONGaremarkablelife/

Thursday 2 November, 5pm, Oriental Institute (Pusey Lane): Dr Barbara Gerke will give a presentation on Tibetan medicine

Thursday 9 November, 5pm, Oriental Institute (Puesy Lane): book author Thomas Shor will present his latest book

Thursday 16 November, 6:00pm, Wolfson College, LWA: Aris Lecture in Tibetan and Himalayan Studies. Prof. Per Kvaerne (Oslo): Teach me how to be Gesar's Daughter - Voices of young Tibetan intellectuals in the diaspora. 

Trinity Term 2017

Friday 23 June, LWA, 5-9pm: Award of an Honorary Fellowship to HH the Gyalwang Drukpa, see https://www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/event/honorary-fellowship-award-ceremony-hi...

Monday 8 May, 3:30-4:30pm, Weston Library Lecture Theatre: Research Uncovered - a Linked Open Data Buddhist Text Archive, with Jeff Wallman (TBRC). For further information see https://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/digital/2017/04/25/jeffwallman/

Thursday 11 May, 5-6pm, Oriental Institute (Pusey Lane): Prof. em. Per Kvaerne (University of Oslo), title tba.

12-13 May, Wolfson College, LWA: Conference on "Global Lives and Local Perspectives: New Approaches to Tibetan Life Writing". Conveners: Lucia Galli, Franz-Xaver Erhard. 

Thursday 25 May, 5-6pm, Oriental Institute (Pusey Lane): Dr Albion Butters (University of Turku, Finnland), The Tantric Superhero: A History of Vajrayana Buddhism in Comics

Over the past eighty years, elements of Vajrayana Buddhism have appeared in a number of popular Western superhero comics, from Green Lama to Strange Tales to The Invisibles. Tantra has been practiced as a spiritual path by mainstream heroes like Batman and alternative ones like King Mob and Promethea, challenging traditional notions of the superhero. This presentation draws on specific case studies to provide a diachronic overview of how tantra has been presented in comics and graphic novels, changing attitudes towards authenticity versus cultural appropriation, the evolution of the spiritual superhero, and the use of literary devices to make tantra-related content more accessible to a Western audience.

Wednesday 7 June, 5-6pm, Oriental Institute (Pusey Lane): Dr Olivier Chiron (Bordeaux): The Organisation of the Sacred Landscape of Sikkim: Between Tradition and Modernity.

This talk will explore the formation and origin of the sacred landscape of Sikkim (Sbas Yul 'Bras mo ljongs, "the Hidden Valley of Rice"), Tibetan notions of hidden lands (sbas yul), as well as that of a pure geographical landscape according to sacred texts and guide books. Particular attention will be paid to the 'Bras mo ijongs gnas yig, a religious guide book that organises the landscape in the circular model of a mandala.

Hilary Term 2017

Friday 3 March 2017, Wolfson, Haldane Room: Tibetan Losar (New Year) Party. All are welcome!

Thursday 2 March 2017, Wolfson, Florey Room, 5:00pm: Prof. Carmen Meinert (Bochum, Germany) will give a lecture on Transcendence of the Senses? Examples from Tantric Ritual Manuals in the Chinese Kharakhoto Manuscripts Collection

By means of a strong patronage system the Tangut court in Eastern Central Asia enabled in the twelfth century the very first transmission of Tibetan Tantric materials into Chinese, nowadays still visible in the Kharakhoto manuscript collection. It comprises a large number of ritual manuals which show how Tantric Buddhist rituals fully engage the senses on the path to awakening. In this talk I aim to explore how in a prescribed ritual process the senses are used to induce a religious experience and how thereby the oscillation between an immanent and a transcendent sphere is mediated.

Friday 10 February, Wolfson, Buttery, 5:30pm: Prof.Yudru Tsomo (Sichuan University) will give a talk on Guoshang Trading Houses and Tibetan Middlemen in Dartsedo, the "Shanghai of Tibet".

Within the field of Sino-Tibetan frontier studies, there is very little in-depth scholarly discussion about commerce, trade, and the people who facilitated these activities across the Sino-Tibetan border; studies in English are particularly sparse. This lecture aims to contribute to a wider and deeper understanding of the nature of trade on the Sino-Tibetan frontier and the role of women as facilitators by looking at some of the actual "dealmakers". In the border town of Dartsedo, the "Shanghai of Tibet" guozhuang (trading houses, Tib. achak khapa) not only evolved into convenient spaces for travelers to come to rest, but also were spaces of flux. It was in these trading houses that traditional notions of gender, class, and hierarchy were called into question and played out in unexpected ways.

20-21 January 2017, Wolfson College, Haldane Room: Workshop on Tibetan Law. Conveners: Fernanda Pirie and Berthe Jansen

This workshop brings together scholars working on different aspects of law in traditional Tibetan societies. They will consider a range of examples, including material from the early empire; historical accounts and legalistic documents from the medieval period; the zhal lce and administrative documents of the Ganden Phodrang era; legal documents of the Oirat Mongols; and regional and local legalism.

For updates please see: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/events/law-and-legalism-tibet

Monday 16 January 2017, Wolfson, LWA, 5pm: Screening of A Gesar Bard's Tale. Director Donagh Coleman will be present. For further information see http://gesarbard.com/ 

Gakar Rinpoche is the So-Wide visiting scholar this term. He will offer readings of Tibetan Buddhist texts and is available for individual meetings and interviews. Gakar Rinpoche is a reincarnate Lama of the Nyingma tradition, born in Dolpo and currently based in Shechen Monastery (Nepal).

Michaelmas Term 2016

Wednesday 12 October 2016, 5-6pm, Oriental Institute (Pusey Lane), Dr Jim Rheingans (University of Bonn): How to do things with texts? Text type and communicative function in Tibetan literature

Tibet's traditions manifest an abundance of textual classes. Scholars in pre-modern Tibet, however, did not theorise extensively about genre or literature, but developed implicit pragmatic schemes and classifications that were by no means homogenous. This paper briefly introduces the text linguistic concept of text type. It then examines the framework of the "communicative function" of a text as a crucial element for developing classifications, but also for other aims of inquiry. With some examples from my current research and other studies, I would like to discuss whether and how this could be a helpful analytical angle for research employing Tibetan texts.

Thursday 13 October 2016, 5-6pm, Oriental Institute (Pusey Lane), Dr Lewis Doney (British Museum): Rupture and Revelation: Indian Themes in Early Tibetan Writings on Empire

This presentation focuses on the birth and growth of Tibetan Buddhist historiography as a literary genre in particular. Special attention will be paid to the Testimony of Ba (dBa' bzhed) tradition, which narrates the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet from India and China. Recently discovered sources of this tradition allow a new assessment of the changing perception of South Asia, as distinct from other regions, expressed in the Tibetan emperor's dealings with Buddhist masters from India.

Thursday 27 October, 5-6pm, Oriental Institute (Pusey Lane), Prof. Anna Morcom (Royal Holloway, London): Tibet, Politics, and Pop Music: subversion, co-option, and commonality

Pop songs and music videos are widely seen as political and a strong form of resistance in a tightly controlled climate. However, I explore a number of reasons why the state would not just tolerate this thriving popular culture, but actually showcase it on state media. I explore the limits to the expression of subversive politics in legally released pop videos and ways in which these songs in fact embody visions of Tibet, Tibetan life, and Tibetan people that are consonant or at least not dissonant with those of the state.

Thursday 1 December 2016, 5:30pm, Wolfson College, LWA: Aris Lecture in Tibetan and Himalayan Studies. Prof. Charles Ramble (EPHE, Paris) will speak on Social History and Vampires: the Dark Continents of Tibetan Studies.

A well-known theme in Tibetan literature depicts the land as an area of benighted savagery, peopled by red-faced flesh-eating demons and an even larger population of malign autochthonous powers; the civilising power of Buddhism tamed the humans and their gods, and transformed the land into a fitting receptacle for the Good Law. Almost a thousand years after it was formulated, this story not only continues to provide a prism through which Tibetans view their own history, but it also influences research on Tibet in subtle but significant ways. This talk will support the case for looking beyond the dominant narrative to discern elements that might form the composition of a very different picture.

Trinity Term 2016

5 May 2016, 5-6pm, Oriental Institute (Pusey Lane), Lecture Room 1: Prof. Deborah Klimburg-Salter will speak on Discovering Tibet: The Tucci Expeditions and Tibetan Painting.

6-7 May 2016, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium: First International Conference on Spiti. Convener: Yannick Laurent. 

13-14 May 2016: Conference on The Interplay between the Oral and the Written in Tibetan Literature. Convener: Dr Lama Jabb.

The dynamic interaction between the spoken and the written word remains largely overlooked in the scholarship on Tibetan literature. This interplay needs to be explored for a deeper understanding of Tibetan civilization in general and a more nuanced appreciation of Tibetan literary creations in particular. This first international conference on the interplay of Tibetan literary texts and oral art forms will bring together academics and contemporary Tibetan writers to exchange opinions and findings and for exploring new ideas, methods and themes.

17 May 2016, 5-6pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium: Glenn Mullin will speak on The Nyam-gur, or "Mystical Songs and Poems" of the Early Dalai Lamas

Glenn Mullin studied Tibetan Buddhism for 12 years in the Tibetan School for Westerners (LTWA) established by the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala in 1971. He published approximately 25 books on Tibetan Buddhism, most of them related to the lives and writings of the early Dalai Lamas.

Hilary Term 2016

Ven Nawang Jinpa is the "So-Wide" Visitor in Hilary Term 2016. Her first public lecture will be:

Monday 18 January, 5:15pm, Oriental Institute, LR 1: Ven. Nawang Jinpa will give an Introduction to the Drukpa Lineage - the Yogic Order or 'Divine Madmen. All are welcome!

Thursday 21 January, 5:00-6:30pm, Oriental Institute, Lecture Room 2: Ian Baker will speak on Embodying Enlightenment: The Secret Yogas of Tibet. All are welcome!

This illustrated talk focuses on the deeply embodied physical practices within Tibetan Buddhism that have persisted alongside, but distinct from, Tibet's monastic traditions of ritual and scriptural study. The talk will explore the foundations of body-mind practices within Vajrayana Buddhism and Dzogchen, their historical transmission to Tibet and other parts of the Himalayan world, and their introduction to the West. - Ian Baker is an anthropologist, author, and independent Tibetan scholar who served as co-curator for "Tibet's Secret Temple: Body, Mind, and Meditation in Tantric Buddhism", a current exhibition at London's Wellcome Collection.



Thursday 28 January, 5:00-6:30pm, Wolfson College, Florey Room: Talk by the Archaeologist Mark Aldenderfer on Pre-700 CE Buddhist Traditions in Northern Nepal: A Review of the Evidence. All are welcome!

Buddhism in Upper Mustang is notable by its apparent absence before 1000 CE. History suggests that Padmasambhava visited Lo perhaps in the late 8th C. Gter ma have been found at Lo Gekar, a temple in Lo Manthang, that locals believe was initiated as early as 636 CE. What can archaeology add to the conversation? In this presentation, I will describe artifacts from our recent excavations at Samdzong that suggest the presence of a "lay" Tibetan Buddhism sometime around 600-650 CE. - Mark Aldenderfer is Professor of Anthropology in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts at the University of California, Merced. His research focuses the comparative analysis of high altitude cultural and biological adaptations from an archaeological perspective.

Friday 19 February, 2:30-7:00pm, Wolfson College, Haldane Room: Workshop on "Preserving cultural heritage in the Western Himalayas" with Ven. Nawang Jinpa (Hemis, Ladakh), Yannick Laurent (Oxford), Christian Luczanits (SOAS, London), David Pritzker (Oxford), and Helmut Tauscher (Vienna). Convener: Ulrike Roesler.

Saturday 20 February, 19:00-23:30pm, Wolfson College, Haldane Room: Tibetan New Year Party! Come and join us to celebrate Losar (New Year) with Tibetan music and Tibetan snacks and tea. Feel free to bring whatever kind of drinks you fancy, and invite family and friends. All are welcome!

Friday 4 March, 4:30-6:00pm, Oriental Institute, Lecture Room 2: Talk by Hon Wai Wai on "Digital Archiving of Monasteries in Tibet"

Michaelmas Term 2015

Wednesday 14 October, 4-6.30pm: Workshop on Monastic and Academic Knowledge Systems with Khenpo Sordargye. Organiser: Catherine Hardie.

Thursday 22 October, 5.30pm: Inaugural annual Aris Lecture. Prof. Janet Gyatso (Harvard): Tibetan Studies and its Possible FuturesThe lecture will be held at Wolfson College in the Leonard Wolfson Auditorium.

Wednesday 9 December, 7:00-9:30pm, Haldane Room: Dr Lama Jabb's book Oral and Literary Continuities in Modern Tibetan Literature: the Inescapable Nation has recently come out. Please join us for a book launch. All are welcome!

Lecture Series, Trinity Term 2015

Jeff Watt, Curator of the HAR (Himalayan Art Resources) website, is giving eight lectures on Himalayan Art in the Oxford Collections. Tuesdays and Wednesdays of weeks 2-5, 4:00-5:00pm, Oriental Institute, Lecture Room 1. All are welcome!


Seminar Series, Hilary Term 2015


22 Jan, 4:30-6:30pm: Film screeningIn the Steps of Joseph Rock: Exploring a lost Tibetan kingdom in the Sino-Tibetan borderlands. A film by Yongdrol Tsongkha, visiting scholar at Wolfson. The director will be present.

Choné, still little known to the western world, was a Tibetan Principality with over 600 years of documented history and a vital cultural center in the Sino-Tibetan borderlands. Ninety years ago, Joseph Francis Rock (1884-1962), one of the last classic explorers, embarked on extensive expeditions across the Tibetan plateau. More than Eighty years later, this documentary follows in the footsteps of this legendary explorer. It is a memorial meeting of the east and west, a long lasting dialogue between the past and the present.

5 Feb: Ven. Tenzin Damchoe (So-Wide visiting scholar): The monastic education system of the Gelugpa tradition

12 Feb, 5:00pm: Film screening: "Nowhere to Call Home" by Jocelyn Ford, and Q&A with the Director.       

Widowed at 28, Tibetan farmer Zanta defies her tyrannical father-in-law and after her husband's death refuses to marry the family's only surviving son. When Zanta's in-laws won't let her seven-year-old go to school, she flees her village and heads to Beijing where she becomes a street vendor. Destitute and embattled by discrimination, Zanta inveigles a foreign customer into helping pay her boy's school fees...

19 Feb: Sam Grimes (Wolfson): Dharmakīrti's Pramāna theory, especially with regards to perception.

26 Feb: Matthew Martin (Oxford), How far can the notion of Jñāna-kāya within the Tibetan Kālacakratantra be viewed as containing a similar ontological infrastructure as Tathāgatagarbha within theÅšrÄ«mālādevÄ«siṃhanāda SÅ«tra?

5 March: Adam Pearcy, (SOAS, London): Remote from Ris Med? Differing Attitudes to Sectarian Identity in Early 20th Century Khams.

12 March: Guzin Yener, (Wolfson College): TBC


Seminar Series, Michaelmas Term 2014

30 Oct: Lopon P Ogyan TanzinThe Tshanglha Language

6 Nov: Hamsa RajanThe Impact of Economic Development and Unified State Rule on Tibetan Women's Household Bargaining Power

13 Nov: Samuel LeighRe-shaping Shangri-La: Reconstructing Tibetan Identity Online

20 Nov: Sangseraima Ujeed (DPhil student, Brasenose) (TBC)

27 NovCameron Bailey (DPhil student, Wolfson), Secret Wisdom's Sea of Clouds: Apotropaic Magic in an Atiyoga Tantric Cycle

4 Dec: Yannick Laurent (DPhil student, Wolfson), Bloody Business: Animal Sacrifices and Political Control in the Spiti Valley

Trinity Term 2014

Jeff Watt, Curator of "Himalayan Art Resources", is giving eight lectures on "Himalayan Painting Styles". The lectures take place in May (weeks 2-5) in the Oriental Institute (lecture room 2). The times are Tuesdays and Fridays, 4-5pm.


"Nomads, Women and Courtship". An afternoon on the region of Amdo, with talks by Fernanda Pirie and Hamsa Rajan and a screening of the film "Beat the Dog" by Karko Tsedup. The film director will be present. Wolfson College, Florey Room.


Workshop on Tibetan Protective Deities., conveners: Cameron Bailey and Jeff Watt. Speakers: Cameron Bailey, Daniel Berounsky, George FitzHerbert, Lucia Galli, Rob Mayer, Charles Ramble, Ulrike Roesler, Anna Sehnalova, Heather Stoddard, Jeff Watt. Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, seminar room 3. All are welcome.


Compassion beyond Culture: A Conference on the Life of Choje Akong Tulku Rinpoche

The Ven. Tibetan Buddhist Reincarnate Lama, Choje Akong Tulku Rinpoche, passed away under tragic circumstances on 8 October 2013 whilst on a visit to oversee his charitable projects in the Tibetan areas of China. Rinpoche was one of the pioneers of introducing Tibetan Buddhism to the West through Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery in Scotland, which he co-founded with Chogyam Trungpa in 1967. He has been working for the welfare of many as a spiritual mentor and through initiatives for healthcare and therapy, education, and poverty relief. This conference aims at sharing and recording Rinpoche's life and activities.


Book launch and workshop on "The Great Fifth Dalai Lama and his Circle" to celebrate the publication of The Illusive Play: The Autobiography of the Fifth Dalai Lama, tr. by Samten G. Karmay. We would like to thank the Michael Aris Memorial Trust and Wolfson College for their generous support for this event. 



"Monastic education and Buddhist dialectics". Talk by Lama Tenzin Telek, Wolfson Visiting Scholar Hilary Term 2014. All are welcome!


3-4pm: Dr Saul Mullard: "Territory, Taxation and the Kingdom of Sikkim: Nineteenth Century Administrative documents from Darjeeling and the Sikkimese Plains (rgya gzhis)"

4:30-5:30pm: Prof Charles Ramble (Paris): "Tormas: the Ritual and Social Function of Tibetan Temporary Art"


The Tibetan and Himalayan Studies Research Centre at Wolfson College celebrated the creation of a new Junior Research Fellowship in Tibetan and Himalayan Studies with an evening of Tibetan poetry and music. It welcomed the first post holder, Dr Lama Jabb, and thanked the donors for their generous and tremendous support.

The evening was opened with Tibetan prayers chanted by a group of monks from Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. Students recited Tibetan poems, and Lodup Gyatso, a unique Tibetan singer, performed traditional and modern Tibetan songs. Homemade Tibetan "momos" and "shapaley" provided a typically Tibetan flavour to the evening.

21 FEBRUARY 2013

Tibetan Poetry and Film Night with Jangbu

Tibetan Poet and Film Maker Jangbu will recite poetry from his anthology 'The Nine Eyed Agate' and screen his most recent film, 'Yartsa Gumbu'. Wolfson College Buttery at 7:30pm. All are welcome.



In Hilary Term 2013, Arjia Rinpoche was a Visiting Scholar at Wolfson College. He gave several talks on Buddhist monasteries and monastic education, a weekly reading class on Tsongkhapa's Lam rim chen mo (Mondays 3-5pm, St Cross College) and instructions on the Heart Sutra (Wednesdays 7pm, Balliol College).



Jeff Watt, Curator at Himalayan Art Resources, was a Visiting Scholar at Wolfson in Michaelmas Term 2012. He gave weekly public lectures on aspects of Tibetan Buddhist art in collaboration with the Tibetan & Himalayan Studies Centre and the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies. Mondays 5:30-7:00pm; Balliol College, Lecture Room XXIII.


28-29 SEPTEMBER 2012

Beyond Biography: New Perspectives on Tibetan Life-writing. Conference at Wolfson College

"Beyond Biography" was the first larger collaboration between the Tibetan and Himalayan Studies Research Cluster and the Life-Writing Centre at Wolfson College.Tibet has an unusually rich tradition of biographical writing, the larger part of which is still waiting to be explored. The aim of the conference was to view Tibetan biographies and autobiographies within the broader context of life-writing across the world and to explore new avenues of interpretation and understanding, addressing for instance literary theory, cross-cultural perspectives, art history, and the pragmatics of (re-)enactment of life-stories.

The conference was opened by Hermione Lee and began with a lively dialogue on auto­biography by Elleke Boehmer and Laura Marcus who addressed some of the burning questions that are specific to Tibetan and Buddhist life-writing: How does the belief in reincarnation affect the way a life is viewed and told? How is an individual life story presented in a culture whose predominant philosophy deconstructs the notion of a "self"? The other conference papers focused on Tibetan material, complemented by a paper on the autobiographies of Buddhist masters from Thailand. They analysed the literary features of Tibetan biographies (such as the interplay of prose and song), looked at different types of biographies (public and "secret" life stories), discussed Tibeto-Monglian interactions and the notion of bio-geography (the way life stories are embedded and re-enacted in their respective locations), and even foreshadowed themes of the upcoming conference on "The Lives of Objects" (2013) by a case study of the "secret lives" of sacred objects in some villages of northern Nepal.

During the conference, participants were introduced to the "Treasury of Lives" internet resource and saw images from the photo collection of the late Michael Aris. Speakers and participants enjoyed the warm environment of Wolfson and Oxford, and the discussions continued long into the night in varying locations. The conference was a stimulating experience and led to the resolution not only to publish the conference papers, but also to plan similar follow-up conferences in the future.


15 MARCH 2012, 15:30PM

Presentation by His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa: Education, Health and Environment in the Buddhist Himalayas. Public talk and panel discussion with the head of the Drukpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.  For further information, please refer to the event report.