China and Inner Asia
This roundtable brings together scholars to rethink and decentralize Buddhist networks across the Himalayas and Inner Asia. Recent studies of pilgrimage, institutions, and political influence demonstrate significant overlap of the greater Tibetan religious-political sphere and the Mongol world. We will discuss how the study of networks that undergird those connections—reincarnation lineages, texts, institutions, ritual, clergy, and lay-believers—challenges or reinforces foundational assumptions about the region's history and geography.
Our discussion raises paradigmatic issues about scale and periodization. Is the characterization of a “Tibetan Buddhist” world in Inner Asia useful or does it obscure a reality of decentralization? Baatra Erdene-Ochir’s research on networks of Buddhist textbook transmission demonstrates how networks of Buddhist colleges (datsang) fostered competition for students at the margins of the Tibetan Buddhist world and yet drew those students closer to the influence of central Tibetan monastic seats. Uranchimeg Ujeed’s work on networks of the Mongolian lineage of Neichi Toyin-Mergen Gegeen demonstrates how they promoted localization of Buddhist tradition, challenging the notion of a unitary “Tibetan Buddhist” world.
Most of the networks studied in Buddhist Asia are literate and male: are there other networks that complicate the elite androcentrism of Buddhist textual studies? Sangseraima Ujeed’s research on networks of Buddhist practice and reincarnation among the Mongolian lay nobility allows us to reconsider the extent of the Tibetan Buddhist world in the early Geluk formation. Similarly, Sam Bass has shown how Buddhist institutions in Mongolia relied on donations of people--sometimes under coercion--and argues that scholars have overlooked the importance of lay-Buddhists and non-elites in institutional networks.
Finally, just how useful is the concept of “network” for understanding history and religion across and between the Himalayas and Inner Asia? Does this approach allow scholars to ask new questions or is it leading to a different sort of parochialism? Johan Elverskog explores Buddhist historiography to query the notion of networks and what they might elide about world history.
This roundtable welcomes insights from other disciplines and other parts of Asia to ask what the identification of networks and their analysis helps to reveal or conceal about Buddhism in Asia.