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16th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies Opens in Prague

Opening ceremony. Image courtesy of the author

The 16th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies (IATS) opened in Prague on 3 July. Hosted by the Faculty of Arts of Charles University and the Oriental Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences, with financial assistance from the City of Prague, the conference will run until 9 July. 

The opening ceremony was held on 4 July at the Faculty of Arts, with keynote speeches from representatives of both educational institutions, and from IATS president Hanna Havnevik of the University of Oslo. The conveners of this most prestigious seminar in Tibetan studies are Daniel Berounský of Charles University and Jarmila Ptáčková of the Oriental Institute.

Havnevik drew attention to the importance of the venue of the seminar: “This is the first time an IATS seminar has been arranged in a Central European country that, until the Velvet Revolution in 1989, was on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain. This revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall were crucial events in world history, opening up Central and Eastern Europe to free academic exchange, including scholars in Tibetan studies.” 

Havnevik also underscored the Czech Republic’s rich tradition in the field of Tibetan studies, established by the polyglot Josef Kolmaš (1933–2021), and she expressed gratitude to the organizing team. 

Prague. Image courtesy of the author

Several hundred abstracts on numerous subjects were vetted for the forum, including Tibetan Buddhism. For the first time, online participation has been included in the proceedings due to travel restrictions for some participants. For various reasons, Tibetan studies scholars from mainland China were unable to participate. 

The IATS board received requests to take a firm stand on two important issues: sexual harassment and assault and research ethics. For that reason a special plenary session was organized on 4 July.

A special roundtable session on 8 July, a last-minute addition to the conference program, will focus on the recent restoration of bhikshuni ordination in Bhutan.* The participants will be Karma Lekshe Tsomo (University of San Diego) and Karma Phuntsho (Loden Foundation and Tsadra Foundation’s Buddha Nature Project) from Bhutan, with Manuel Lopez of the New College of Florida and Fan Wu, a graduate student at the University of Virginia. The goal of this special session will be to discuss the importance of this historic event ands its possible impact on the lives of nuns in the region.

The exhibition  “The Tibetan Army in Historic Photographs 1895-1959.” Image courtesy of the author

The seminar is also offering a rich cultural program. During the opening ceremony, curator Alice Travers presented a special exhibition, “The Tibetan Army in Historic Photographs 1895–1959.” This unique exhibition of 166 photographs seeks to shed light on a little-studied secular aspect of Tibetan history: its military prior to 1959. 

The host institutions provide city tours, and a guided introduction to the Asian collections of the National Gallery, which include more than 13,000 artifacts—among them Tibetan and Mongolian paintings and sculptures from 17th–19th centuries. 

One exhibition, “The Painted Mantra – Sacred Syllables illuminated through Tibetan Calligraphy” by Tashi Mannox, one of the world’s foremost contemporary Tibetan calligraphers and Dharma artists, will open at Červený Jelen on 7 July. The exhibits will be displayed in Prague’s Tibet Open House gallery until 27 July, and will then be auctioned to raise funds for a scholarship for a Tibetan academic to travel from China to the next IATS seminar. Mannox will also create a huge “calligraffiti” on a wall at the music festival “Eastern Tunes” at Mikulášovice. 

The seminar program also includes a concert and several Tibetan films.

Organizing team. Image courtesy of the author

The IATS was formally created in 1979 on the occasion of a conference on Tibetan studies that was organized at the University of Oxford by the late English historian Michael Aris (1946–1999), who wrote and lectured on Bhutanese, Tibetan, and Himalayan culture and history. The purpose of the association, as stated in the statutes drawn up at this meeting, is primarily to promote the study of Tibet from all disciplinary perspectives, including history, religion, linguistics, and art, to cite just four prominent examples, and to provide a forum for established and aspiring scholars to present original academic research. As an association, the IATS has no political interest or affiliation. 

The 15th IATS seminar was hosted by the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (Inalco) in France in 2019. Other host countries include: Austria (1995), Canada (2009), Germany (1985, 2006), Japan (1989), Mongolia (2013), the Netherlands (2000), Norway (1992, 2016), the UK (1979, 2003), and the US (1982, 1998).

* Buddhistdoor View: 21 June – Auspicious Conditions to Grow the Bhikshuni Order (BDG), Gelongma Dompa (dgeslongma’i sdom pa): The Blessing of Bhikshuni Ordination in Bhutan (BDG), and 142 Buddhist Nuns Receive Full Ordination at Landmark Ceremony in Bhutan (BDG)

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16th IATS Seminar 2022 (IATS)

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