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Title: Tibetan Buddhist spiritual capital in contemporary China
Author: Hardie, Catherine
ISNI:       0000 0004 7971 5446
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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As the spiritual cachet of Tibetan Buddhism has surged among contemporary PRC-based Han Chinese audiences, a vibrant Sinophone Tibetan Buddhist milieu has taken root in the nation's religious 'grey space.' This dissertation poses the key question of how this milieu, comprised by hundreds - if not thousands - of overlapping teacher-centred networks, has given rise to forms of lay Buddhist identity, practice and community that are compatible with, and compelling within, the historically specific life-worlds of its participants. Drawing on multi-sited ethnographic research conducted in the PRC from 2012 to 2014, it reveals a religious landscape that has witnessed remarkable growth and evolution since the first flush of Post-Mao Sino-Tibetan religious interactions in the 1980s. This dissertation focuses in particular on the emergence of digitally-mediated textual communities over the last decade-and-a-half, framing them an organisational breakthrough that has, among other things, paved the foundations for new ways of individually and collectively doing Tibetan Buddhism. My analysis proceeds from the key insight that textual communities, while perhaps prevalent in the broader Chinese Buddhist field, have not, until recently, served as a widespread foundation for practice and sociality in the Sinophone Tibetan Buddhist milieu. Contrasting the popular-style, charisma-based religiosity on offer in the loosely organised, non-institutionalised patron-disciple networks of 'construction generation' lamas with the structured religious education programmes of textual communities, I show how the latter have energised elite subjectivities and the contributed to a discourse on the ethical importance of teaching in contemporary Sino-Tibetan teacher-student interactions. As a trailblazing force at the helm of these developments, particular attention is given to the efforts of the Serta Larung Five Sciences Buddhist Academy (more commonly known as Larung Gar) and its second-generation teachers to innovate systematic programmes of text-based Buddhist study for Sinophone lay audiences, and their timely adoption of new communication technologies to ramp up their impact. While Buddhist education resources have emerged as one of Tibetan Buddhism's standout forms of spiritual capital in the new millennium, it would be a mistake to flatten its religious appeal in the eyes of contemporary Han Chinese audiences to systematic textual education and associated participatory structures. Even the most education-centric of the Sinophone Tibetan Buddhist milieu's textual communities offer comprehensive Tibetan Buddhist religious packages replete with charismatic Tibetan leaders, compelling volunteer opportunities, and dynamic pilgrimage cultures embellished by largescale liturgical events. In highlighting differences in scale, focus, degree of mobilisation and organisational complexity among Sinophone Tibetan Buddhist networks in China, this dissertation represents a fresh contribution to research on grassroots Sino-Tibetan religious interactions in the PRC and the ongoing metamorphosis of the religious landscape in which they take place.
Supervisor: Gellner, David Sponsor: Clarendon Fund
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Anthropology of Religion ; Buddhism ; Chinese religion ; Tibetan Buddhism