CANCELLED: Seminar – 26 November – Agnieszka Joniak–Lüthi & Thomas White

November 14th, 2019 by anna.c

There will be NO MIASU SEMINAR on Tuesday November 26 as it has been cancelled due to strike action. Apologies for the inconvenience.

New Reading Group – Sovereignty, Governance and Environment

November 5th, 2019 by anna.c

We are pleased to announce the launch of another MIASU reading group which will take place twice termly for for this academic year. The michaelmas sessions will take place on Thursdays 14th and 28th November at 5pm-6pm in the Mond Building Seminar room, Free School Lane. All are welcome, and there is no need to register.

Please see further details here

Seminar – 12 November – Anna Sehnalova

October 29th, 2019 by anna.c


Tuesday 12 November 2019

4.30–6.00 Mond Building Seminar Room

Anna Sehnalova

University of Oxford

Mountain Deities and Their Treasures: Tibetan Non-Buddhist Cosmologies and Possible Indigenous Origins of the Tibetan gTer ma tradition

The presentation attempts to reveal (some of) the key features of Tibetan non-Buddhist cosmologies based on mountain cults and specific perceptions of landscape: worship of ancestors as mountain deities, deified genealogies and lineages of power, notions of divine origin linked to perceived history and identity, and ideas of various forces of prosperity, in relation to history, migration, and actual social and political organisation.

The paper revolves around the question of possible origins of the Tibetan gter ma treasure traditions from outside its own testimonies and narratives, making use of other written historical documents (such as chronicles and genealogies), other ritual texts, and mainly oral history and recent fieldwork in East Tibet in the area of the sacred mountain of gNyan po g.yu rtse in the region of mGo log. Tibetan indigenous religious notions, particularly local, and mainly mountain, deities (variously called gzhi bdag, yul lha, gzhi bdag yul ha, also sa bdag, etc.), and their relationship to the concept of a hidden treasure, gter, are central. Such a gter treasure is an offering to the deities of land, acquires various functions, and is employed at different social and religious occasions. It represents a coherent part of local indigenous cosmological perceptions and linked ancestral worship.

Different kinds of treasures are offered to the deities of land as repositories of various forces of good fortune, prosperity and well-being (g.yang, bla, sa bcud), ensuring success and continuation of the social groups concerned. The treasures offered nowadays usually acquire the form of ‘treasure vases’ (gter bum) or ‘treasure sachets’ (gter khug), and based on the location of their placement can be ‘earth treasures’ (sa gter) or ‘lake treasures’ (mtsho gter). Treasure burials of bones of leading figures, typically clan chieftains, in ‘treasure vases’ as ‘earth treasures’ mark important sites of their groups’ history and religious practice, as well as places of own ancestry. The sites of such burials can become venerated as sacred mountains and the individuals thus buried as mountain deities, becoming worshipped ancestors by their descendants.

The paper aims to open the questions in which ways the gter is related to gter ma, if it eventually might have stood at its origins, and if, for instance, the latter might be an outcome of the Buddhicisation of the former.

Workshop – 1 November – Contemporary Kalmykia: Religion and Identity in a Russian Republic

October 24th, 2019 by anna.c


Friday 1 November, 10.30

Mond Building Seminar Room

Contemporary Kalmykia: Religion and Identity in a Russian Republic

MIASU, CamCREES and the University of Arkansas will be jointly hosting this conference bringing together leading experts on the themes of identity and politics in the Russian republic of Kalmykia, a Buddhist practicing region located in the country’s southeast. Presentations will discuss the topics of religion, identity, memory, and deportation, among others. The aim of the event is to foreground scholarship on this understudied region, situating it within its regional, national, and international contexts.

More details are contained in the programme

Seminar – 29 October – Valeriya Gazizova

October 22nd, 2019 by anna.c


Tuesday 29 October 2019

4.30–6.00 Mond Building Seminar Room

Valeriya Gazizova

University of Cambridge

Buddhist, Soviet and Kalmyk: ‘Secret’ Lamas of Late Socialism, Their Loci of Worship and Patterns of Transmission

The talk explores the construction of public memories and proliferating cults of dissident Buddhist lamas who secretly conducted ritual services and healed by means of Tibetan Buddhist medicine during the Soviet period in Kalmykia, southwest Russia. The Stalinist purges in the 1930s erased the Buddhist establishment from the public scene, and until the late 1980s, Buddhism and indigenous forms of popular worship and healing remained illegal in Soviet Kalmykia. Despite the state suppression, unofficial Buddhist centres were functioning around former monks, who had received a clerical education (in Russia or abroad) before the anti-religious campaigns and survived years in Gulag prison-camps. Some of these underground Buddhists were ascribed special healing and visionary powers, with stories about their magic abilities abounding. Their deification is now a vivid tendency both on the level of popular religiosity and reconstructed Buddhist institutions, being actively deployed in Kalmyk Buddhist politics. The talk shall address broader topics of ‘secrecy’ and ‘publicity’, as well as the questions of deification, special attainment and secret transmission in Tibetan Buddhism. Exploring the relationship between memory, history and identity formation, I shall feature contemporary Kalmyk representations of both ‘Tibet’ and the ‘Soviet’ as imaginary elsewhere spaces which have become instrumental in constructing what is now often defined as the ‘authentic Kalmyk religion’.