You are here

Tibetan and Himalayan Religions Unit

Call for Proposals

We welcome proposals on any topic or theme related to Tibetan and Himalayan Religions for next year’s American Academy of Religion annual meeting in Boston. The presidential theme for 2020, suggested by our own José Cabezón, is “The AAR as a Scholarly Guild.” President Cabezón hopes that this theme will provide the Academy’s units with an opportunity to reflect on our own histories and aspirations as a professional society devoted to promoting the academic study of religion. Proposals do not need to relate to this theme but the AAR will be particularly interested in panels that address it.

The Tibetan and Himalayan Religions Unit has a Tier 2 session allotment for the five-year term (2019-2023). This grants us a choice of either one 2 hour session and two 90 minute sessions or one 2.5 hour session, and one 2 hour session, both with one additional 90-minute session for co-sponsorship. Please indicate in your submissions as clearly as possible the scope of your proposed panel. Consider submitting your individual paper in addition to its inclusion in a fully formed panel, if you would like your individual paper to be included for a possible “new research” session formed out of individual submissions.

Proposals may be submitted through the PAPERS website through March 2, 2020.

We would like to especially welcome under-represented members of the Tibetan and Himalayan Studies global guild to submit papers as individual and/or group submissions. If papers are accepted, the AAR has limited funding (waivers for membership and registration fees) for scholars who do not usually attend the annual meetings. Likewise after papers are accepted, it may be possible to get funding from external sources for underrepresented scholars, please contact the co-chairs, Ben Bogin or Nicole Willock, for more information.

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 Anthropological Research
Contact: Maria Turek,

● What can ethnographic work among Tibetans in the PRC and the diaspora tell us about Tibetan Buddhism today?
Contact: Nisheeta Jagtiani,

● Transnational Narratives
Contact: Bill McGrath (

● Transnational and transcultural voices in the assimilation of the Tibetan Buddhist ‘Empire’
This panel or roundtable aims to bring together scholars working in and around “Tibetan/Himalayan Buddhism” across the wider world of Tibetan Buddhism (Nepal, Bhutan, Southern Mongolia, Northern Mongolia, Ladakh) to highlight and explore its cosmopolitan and diverse characteristics during the early modern period.
Contact: Sangseraima Ujeed,

● Translating ‘Religion’ Out of Tibetan
This would be an exploration of how we translate “religion” out of Tibetan Buddhist sources. The term “religion” has long been at the forefront of discourses about Tibet, its culture, and its history. What are the critical terms Tibetan Buddhists have used to describe and define their communities of belonging, and to distinguish them from Buddhist and non-Buddhist others? Where do these terms diverge from the way “religion” is deployed? The panel would aim to engage with works from Tibetan authors at diverse historical periods and scales in thinking about how their terminologies and categories might contribute to scholarly conversations about religion in Tibet and the Himalayas.
Contact: Eric Haynie, University of Michigan,

● Interspecies Relations in Tibet and the Himalayas
In Tibet and the Himalayas, human and non-human animals have traditionally shared domestic space, and have to some extent constituted their aims, emotions, and sensibilities in relation with one another. Webs of relatedness connect humans not only with livestock and domesticated animals, but also with wild animals, with gods and spirits (e.g., sa bdag, yul lha, klu, btsan, and ’dre), and of course with other human beings such as siblings, parents, children, spouses, and in-laws. Looking to how these relations are co-constitutive of human and non-human identities, we draw on Radhika Govindrajan’s ethnography of “interspecies relatedness” and her proposal that “relatedness must always be understood as constituting a partial connection between beings who come to their relationship as unpredictable, unknowable, and unequal entities.” Beyond the quotidian performance of relatedness in the daily lives of, for example, farmers and nomads, religious adepts employ various means to communicate with gods and spirits, and also with dakinis, yidam deities, and protector deities. Attention to the media and the semantics of interspecies communication often reveals the specific contours of relatedness, and that ways in which each party shapes the exchange. This panel proposes to explore modes of communication and how these index various types of relatedness across or between ontological, positional, or special divides. We welcome contributions relevant to human–non-human animal relations, but we equally welcome papers that meditate on relatedness, difference, and interpersonal communication with other beings as well.
Contacts: Brandon Dotson, and Amelia Hall,

Statement of Purpose

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.


Steering Committee Members



Review Process

Proposer names are visible to chairs but anonymous to steering committee members