Monasticism is one of the defining features of Tibetan Buddhism, and monastic institutions and communities played a key role also in the political and social life of medieval Tibet (11th–17th c.). This project will look at the development and growth of monasticism in Tibet over this period, at the function of monastic institutions in the definition of sectarian identities, and at their organization and their relationship with political power.

In particular, the project will investigate the following main topics, which intersect each other:

  • Negotiations of power and forms of governance in the secular and the religious sphere. This enquiry will be focused on examining the relationship between monastic institutions and powerful noble houses, and ways of conceptually framing and practically implementing this relationship. Thus, it will include analyzing forms of succession to high office and investigating the role of monasteries in local economic developments, in land tenure, and in the concentration of wealth. It will also study the formation of institutional networks, mapping monastic development across the plateau.
  • Monastic space and time. This enquiry will be focused on the study of specific sites, investigating their growth, internal spatial layout, and liturgical calendar, thereby offering for the first time a study of how medieval monastic life was organized. It will also study the material and artistic production, recovering patterns of sponsorship of religious buildings and items of worship, and investigating the material and visual expression of local or trans-local religious and political identities.
  • Monasteries as centers of education and religious training. This enquiry will be focused on the growth of monastic colleges dedicated to the study of specific disciplines, the articulation of different branches of knowledge, and the development of monastic curricula. It will also look at the construction of sectarian identities and “orthodoxies,” in dialogue with–and in opposition to–other contemporary religious communities.

The early diffusion of printing in Tibet, which is coeval with the development of mass monasticism (15th–16th century). This will allow tracing the diffusion of xylographic printing across the plateau, investigating the historical factors of its emergence, and assessing its impact on Tibetan intellectual life. The main goal will be creating an online database of all known Tibetan editions up to the year 1600, the “Atlas of Early Tibetan Printing” (AETP). The database will also allow investigating the role of printing in the construction of religious identities, in the spread of new reform movements, and in the means of knowledge-transfer. This will permit to substantiate the hypothesis that the diffusion of the new technology of book production was primarily sponsored by the noble families and intimately linked to the growth of monasticism.



Buddhist Studies Tibetan Studies



Marta Sernesi (École Pratique des Hautes Études)

CRCAO members

Full members
Marta Sernesi (École Pratique des Hautes Études)

Doctoral students
Chandra Chiara Ehm (École Pratique des Hautes Études)

Participant hors laboratoire

Mathias Fermer (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna)