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Ritual, Modernity and Politics in Tibet and its Peripheral Regions

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Director : Katia Buffetrille (EPHE)

Permanent Members : Françoise Pommaret (CNRS).
Associate Members : Amy Heller (independent researcher), Mireille Helffer (retired).
Doctoral Students : Ian Zimmermann
Post-doctoral Students : Nicola Schneider
Collaborators : Marie-Dominique Even (GSRL), Marie Lecomte-Tilouine (LAS), Samten Karmay (retired).

This project proposes to examine ritual in the context of modernity from the religious, political and social perspectives –hence the diversity of its participants- and to identify the principles common to the regions in question.

The purpose is not to question the traditional sociological premise of tradition versus modernity applied in other cultural areas [1], and, indeed, our theoretical approach will draw on the work of our predecessors [2]. We will seek to understand the context in which modernization has taken place, its processes and its effects and focus more particularly on the mechanisms (objects, symbols and myths) that give value to the rituals, and on the religious or ideological stakes involved rather than on their actual purpose.

The notion of legitimization will also be addressed from two angles : one that could be described as internal and the other as external. We will examine what legitimizes a ritual, what gives it its ritual value and also what the ritual serves to legitimize.

In this respect, particular attention will be paid to the question of the political instrumentalisation of the religious and, vice versa, the religious instrumentalisation of the political. The question is particularly relevant in the regions in question, owing to the major socio-political upheavals they have undergone in recent times. Some of these regions are either currently under communist rule (China, Tibet) while others have recently emerged from it (Mongolia) or else have recently witnessed a government takeover by Maoist movements (Nepal).


[1E. Dianteill, D. Hervieu-Léger, I. Saint-Martin (Editors), 2004, La modernité rituelle. Rites politiques and religieux des sociétés modernes, Paris, L’Harmattan, coll. « Religions en questions ».

[2Including : C. Bell, 1992, Ritual theory. Ritual practice, Oxford University Press ; C. Bell, Ritual : Perspective and dimensions ; C. Bell, 1989, « Ritual, Change and changing Rituals », Worship 63, n°1, 31-41 ; Blondeau A.M. et K. Schipper, Essais sur le rituel, Colloque du centenaire de la section des sciences religieuses de l’EPHE. Bibliothèque des sciences religieuses, 3 volumes ; Caroline Humphrey, James Laidlaw, 1994, The Archetypal Actions of Ritual : A Theory of Ritual Illustrated by the Jain Rite of Worship. Clarendon Press, Oxford. 1994.