Seminar – 23 January – Marissa Smith

January 8th, 2018 by


Tuesday 23 January 2018

4.30–6.00 Mond Building Seminar Room

Marissa Smith

De Anza College, Cupertino, California

Making a Master: Monumental Construction on a Pasture of Cultural Production

Recent scholarship on subnational identity, territoriality, and power in Inner Asia has emphasized its basis in forms of asymmetrical relation (“ruler” and “subject,” “owner” and “custodian,” “patron” and “client,” “host” and “guest,” etc.) spreading from supernatural masters of the land (Mng. gazriin ezed) to individual humans, mediated by heads of state, sangha, and household heads. In many contexts, these distinct institutions and individuals situate relations among themselves in terms of sharing a local “pasture” (Mng. nutag) under the power of a supernatural master. How is this “pasture” like a Bourdieusian “field” — how is the identity of these common masters, and the form of the pasture upon which institutions and persons negotiate the rules governing their relations, determined?

This talk describes the years-long process of planning, construction, remodeling, awakening, and reawakening of a monumental Buddha (Burkhan Bagsh) in Erdenet, Mongolia. Other monumental statuary projects of the postsocialist period, including Kh. Battulga’s Chinggis Khaan complex and Guru Deva Rinpoche’s Burkhan Bagsh in Ulaanbaatar, have been associated with a single human person’s claims to exemplarship and assertion of the singular importance of an institution these individual masters are reforming. The construction of the Erdenet Burkhan Bagsh, however, has involved local and national-level Buddhist institutions, the city’s coeval mining corporation, and the office of the provincial governor appointed by the national government. These institutions have often been in open conflict with one another and variously patronized by different demographics resident in Erdenet. However, during the process of building the Burkhan Bagsh divisions along lines of territorialized ethnic (undesten) identity, religious practice, political party affiliation, and natural resource management have been maintained, various masters of the land and ties to other pastures undisturbed, and local coherence in terms of national heritage, environmental responsibility, and international belonging articulated.