Content Courses

UN1365: Introduction to East Asian Civilizations: Tibet

Professor: Patrick Booz

This course seeks to introduce the sweep of Tibetan civilization and its history from its earliest recorded origins to the present. To do this, we must answer two questions: “What is Tibet?” and “What is a civilization?” Currently, cultural Tibet is a much larger entity than typically understood, covering an area the size of Western Europe. The Tibetan civilization, as a cultural formation that is capable of transforming other cultures, is also a much broader phenomenon than typically recognized. At its greatest extent, Tibetan civilization dominated much of inland Asia, extending into parts of Iran and the Middle East following the Mongol invasions, west to the Volga and north to Siberia (again among modern Mongols), and east to Beijing. Following the Tibetan diaspora in the 1950s, Tibetan civilization has become a global phenomenon.

We will consider what makes Tibetan civilization distinctive. The course examines what civilizational forces shaped Tibet, especially the contributions of Indian Buddhism, sciences and literature, but also Chinese statecraft and sciences and, less significant, Persian influences. Elements of all these neighboring civilizations combined with existing elements of Tibetan traditions to form what we now call Tibetan civilization. Tibetan Buddhism is a central element of Tibetan civilization and has shaped the politics, economy, national identity, education, and society of Tibet (and sometimes neighboring regions as well). Alongside the chronological history of Tibet, we will explore aspects of social life and culture. Thematic topics, such as the economy and material culture, structures of power (clan and family, social, religious and gender hierarchies), legal codes and intellectual / artistic developments will be examined in each chronological period. The religious life of Tibet will be central to our study: the various schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Bön, the arts and sciences (including medicine, dance, music, and fine arts), religious practices (pilgrimage, meditation, scholastic debate, popular devotions) and literature (canons, biography, poetry, history, liturgy, etc.). The course will include sessions on contemporary Tibetan culture, social issues, and ecological concerns.


GU4814: Space and Place in Urbanizing Tibet

Professor: Eveline Washul

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GU4815: Faith & Empire: Art & Politics in Tibetan Buddhism

Professor: Karl P Debreczeny (Rubin Museum)

Religious claims to political power are a global phenomenon, and Tibetan Buddhism offered a divine means to power and legitimacy to rule for several centuries in Inner Asia and China. This class will explore the intersection of politics, religion, and art in Tibetan Buddhism. At the heart of this dynamic is the force of religion to claim political power, both symbolically as a path to legitimation, in the form of sacral kingship, and literally as a tantric ritual technology to physical power, in the form of magic. The use of reincarnation as a means of succession was a unique Tibetan model of political legitimacy employed by courts in Tibet and brought to empires to the east. Images were one of the primary means of political propagation, integral to magical tantric rites, and embodiments of power.

The Tibetan Empire, Tangut Xixia, Mongol Empire, Chinese Ming, and Manchu Qing all embraced this path. This political engagement with Buddhism does not necessarily signify that leaders ruled these empires as idealized Buddhist kingdoms. Their employment of religious rhetoric was part of their claim to legitimacy, and their deployment of religious ritual was one of the means by which they sought to take and maintain power. At various times from the eighth to the early twentieth century, engagement with Tibetan Buddhism was a defining aspect of imperial identity.

It is through this lens of Tibetan Buddhism’s significant and sustained political role that this class will seek to place Himalayan art in a larger global context, and highlight a dynamic aspect of the tradition related to power, one that may run counter to popular perceptions yet is critical to understanding its importance on the world stage.


Language Courses

UN1410: First-Year Classical Tibetan I

Professor: Konchog Tseten

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UN1600: First-Year Modern Colloquial Tibetan I

Professor: Sonam Tsering

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UN2412: Second-Year Classical Tibetan I

Professor: Pema Bhum

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UN2603: Second-Year Modern Colloquial Tibetan I

Professor: Sonam Tsering

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UN3611: Third-Year Modern Colloquial Tibetan I

Professor: Sonam Tsering

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