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Losar Tashi Delek!
The Tibetan and Himalayan Religions Unit welcomes proposals for panel sessions, individual papers, and roundtables in all areas of the study of Tibetan and Himalayan Religions. The presidential theme for 2021 proposed by AAR President, Marla Frederick, is Religion, Poverty and Inequality: Contemplating Our Collective Futures. By which President Frederick asks, “How does the study of religion open new avenues for the analysis of poverty and growing inequalities? What do sacred texts say about the condition of the world’s poor as well as the status and responsibility of its wealthy? How do such scripts inform our understanding of social protests? Given that religious texts, practices and ethical debates can function both to encourage individuals and/or governments in redressing social inequality and to justify a stance of ignoring it, how might we as scholars of religion better communicate the role of religion in shaping the public sphere?” We hope you will keep this theme in mind when crafting your 2021 Call for Proposals. Proposals do not need to relate to this theme but the AAR will be particularly interested in panels that address it. Scroll to the bottom of this email to contact unit members who have panel proposals in the works.
We will send another announcement when the call for proposals opens. Proposals will be due: March 1, 2021 5pm EST.

A reminder that the AAR and the Khyentse Foundation have teamed up to offer a new travel grant to support under-represented members of the Tibetan and Himalayan Studies global guild to participate in the AAR annual meeting. Papers must be accepted first before the application for this travel grant opens. Please see details below and encourage colleagues to submit papers/roundtable/panel proposals to the AAR annual meeting in San Antonio.

Session Allotment Information

The Tibetan and Himalayan Religions Unit has a Tier 2 session allotment for the five-year term (2019-2023). For 2021, this means that we have two 2-hour sessions and one two-hour session for co-sponsorship. As you plan, please keep this information in mind and consider submitting your individual paper in addition to its inclusion in a fully formed panel, that is if you would like your individual paper to be included for a possible “grab-bag new research” session formed out of individual submissions.

AAR Tibetan and Himalayan Religions Program Unit Annual Meeting Travel Grant

With funding provided by the Khyentse Foundation, the American Academy of Religion will award travel grants to support the participation of native Himalayan or Tibetan scholars at the 2021 Annual Meetings. This travel grant program encourages inclusivity for scholars from the religiously and ethnically diverse wider geographic region of Inner Asia, Himalayas, and Tibet. The members of the AAR Tibetan and Himalayan Religions Unit steering committee will select the grant winners.

To be eligible to apply, applicants must be accepted to participate on a panel or session at the AAR Annual Meeting. The application for the travel grant will open AFTER notification of acceptance to the annual meeting.

Proposed Panels
Below are themes that have already been proposed by unit members (if you are interested in contributing to a panel on one of these topics, please contact the organizer directly):

“Contemporary monastic education in the Tibetan/Himalayan region”
Contact: Manu Lopez manu.asia@gmail.com
This panel co-organized with Prof. Dorji Gyeltshen (Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law; JSWSL) focuses on the changes, adaptations, and transformations of the current monastic curriculum, the challenges faced by nuns in accessing the curriculum, and the establishment of alternatives forms of religious education (such as the Bhutan Nuns Foundation Training Center, or the Institute for the Study of the Mind, both in Bhutan). Prof. Dorji Gyeltshen and I plan to focus on the transformation of religious education in Bhutan. We are looking for scholars who could present on this topic focusing on other Himalayan regions (Tibet, India, Nepal).

“Poverty, Misfortune, and Failure: Reflections on the Opacity of Karma”
Please contact Kate Hartmann (Catherine.Hartmann@uwyo.edu) and Brandon Dotson (dotson.brandon@gmail.com) with any questions or to express interest.
The Buddhist doctrine of karma is often invoked to explain present misfortune. But individuals do not generally know their own karma, or what they might have done, whether in this life or a past life, that has led to current circumstances. In their paper "Narrative, Sub-ethics, and the Moral Life," Charles Hallisey and Anne Hansen refer to this idea as the opacity of karma. This panel takes up the Presidential Theme of “Religion, Poverty, and Inequality” by asking how Buddhists at various places and times have used ideas of karma in making sense of their difficult circumstances. How do they talk about their own karma, try to discern the causes for present situations, or reflect on how karma relates to poverty and misfortune generally? The panel asks, moreover, how these articulations of karma might reframe the way scholars think about or teach about karma. We welcome scholars specializing on Buddhism in any geographical area or time period. Depending on the level of interest, we may propose a panel in the Buddhism Unit, the Tibetan and Himalayan Religion, Chinese Religions Unit, or propose a co-sponsored panel.

“Monstrous,” Fierce, and Fantastic Beings in Himalayan Religions
Contact: Natasha Mikles (n.mikles@txstate.edu)
This panel invites papers on religious rituals, narratives, and texts from Himalayan traditions that relate to “monstrous” beings. For purposes of this panel, “monster” is a second-order category deployed by scholars to set up a basis on comparison for further analysis. As such, “monstrous beings” could include beings who elicit terror, possess extraordinary qualities, or whose ontology challenges established categories; examples could include (but are not limited to): nagas, dakinis, dralha, wrathful bodhisattvas, Dharmapalas, local deities of the land, ro-lang. This panel will include as a central topic of discussion an exploration of the process of “monstrosizing” other peoples and the consequences of such discourse.

Women and Revelation in India, China, and Tibet

We would like to organize a panel that explores the central role of narrative (especially hagiography) in the process of building a community, and the key role of women (divine, human, and everything in between) play in the writing, transmission, and alteration of revelatory literature. The focus will be on the historical literature of China, India, and Tibet, and compare the shared modes of textual production in these regions. Please contact Jue Liang (liangj@denison.edu) or Jonathan Pettit (jeep@hawaii.edu) if you are interested in contributing or have any questions. (Possible co-sponsorship with Arts, Literature, and Religion Unit, Comparative Studies in Religion Unit, Women and Religion Unit.)


Other ideas include:

 “The Religious Life of Contemporary Tibetan Women”
Contact: Jue Liang (jl4nf@virginia.edu)

“Evolving Perspectives on Sutra and Tantra”
Contact: Rae Dachille (raedachille@arizona.edu)

“Dreams and Dreaming in Himalayan Religions”
Contact: Jake Dalton (jakedalton@berkeley.edu)


Mission Statement:

This Unit’s mission is to create an environment that promotes discussion among scholars taking diverse approaches to the study of Tibetan and Himalayan religions. Our identity and cohesion derive from the fact that we deal with a delimited geocultural space, but the intellectual excitement comes from the fact that we are specialists in different historical periods and cultural areas, from the fact that we are interested in different religious traditions, and from the fact that we have different methodological approaches to the study of religion. In particular, we encourage scholarship that approaches Tibetan and Himalayan religions through a wide range of approaches:

Multidisciplinary focus — we are committed to methodological diversity and to promoting scholarship that challenges the traditional disciplinary dichotomies through which the field has defined itself, such as text/practice, written/oral, philology/ethnography, and humanistic/social scientific study.

Transregional focus — we encourage a holistic approach to the study of Tibet and the Himalaya as a region, albeit a diverse one. One of the most important features of religious traditions in our field — perhaps in every field — is the degree to which they are inextricably connected, and it is only through the exploration of such interconnections that the phenomenon of religion in the Tibeto-Himalayan region can be understood. Such interconnections often cut across ethnonational boundaries.

Focus on cultural history — in the last decade, the study of Asian religions has taken a quite drastic cultural/historical turn. Nowhere is this more evident than in the study of Tibetan and Himalayan religions. A previous generation of scholars was concerned principally with elite religious institutions — and more specifically with their doctrinal/philosophical texts. Today scholarship is much more diverse. A new generation of scholars is concerned, for example, with folk religious practices, religion and material culture, the politics of religious institutions, the representation of Tibetan religions in the media, and the historical construction of the field itself.

This Unit is committed to fostering such a multifaceted approach to the cultural history of Tibet and the Himalayas.

Method of Submission:




Brandon Dotson, brandon.dotson@wolfson.oxon.org

Nicole Willock, nwillock@odu.edu


Steering Committee:

James Gentry, jdgentry@stanford.edu

Jue Liang, jl4nf@virginia.edu

Nancy Lin, nlin@berkeley.edu 

Dominique Townsend, dtownsend@bard.edu

Sangseraima Ujeed, sujeed@ucsb.edu


Session Allotment: Tier 2 – Two 2-hour sessions

Next Review: 2024