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Northwestern University Hosts Lotsawa Translation Workshop on Buddhist Women’s Voices in the Tibetan Tradition


The second Lotsawa Translation Workshop, titled “Celebrating Buddhist Women’s Voices in the Tibetan Tradition,” was held at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, from 13-16 October. 

The event was organized with the support of the Tsadra Foundation and Luce/ACLS, two private foundations based in New York, and in cooperation with Northwestern’s Department of Religious Studies, and the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures.

The Lotsawa Translation Workshop was designed to provide an opportunity for translators and scholars to work together in a hands-on setting on translations-in-progress. Among the goals of the workshop are: connecting theory and practice in crafting literary translations of Buddhist literature from Tibetan into English; forging a community of practice around translation through experimentation, dialogue, and feedback; and making short works of Tibetan Buddhist literature available to practitioners, undergraduates, and the general public by publishing thematic anthologies of translations.

The thematic focus of the workshop is an exploration of issues around translating the voices and experiences of Buddhist women from Tibetan sources into English. This includes works from different genres and time periods, ranging from classical Buddhist texts to the writings of modern Tibetan women. 

The workshop is inspired by the groundbreaking compilation of 52 volumes of writings by, for, and about Buddhist women in the Tibetan language called Ḍākinīs’ Great Dharma Treasury (Tib: mkha’ ’gro’i chos mdzod chen mo), published in 2017 by the Ārya Tāre Publishing Committee and combining the writings of Buddhist nuns from Larung Gar in eastern Tibet.

Readings by Tibetan authors. From

The first Lotsawa Translation Workshop was held at the University of Colorado, Boulder in 2018 under the theme “Tibetan Songs (mgur) and Affect in a Buddhist Devotional Framework.”

The organizers hope that this second Lotsawa Translation Workshop will offer practical support to newer translators and graduate students, provoke fresh approaches to the translation of Tibetan Buddhist texts, and cultivate a greater sense of community among those engaged in translation. 

The workshop organizers are four accomplished female scholars: Sarah Jacoby, associate professor of Religious Studies at Northwestern University; Padma ‘tsho, a professor in the Philosophy Department of Southwest University for Nationalities in Chengdu, China; Holly Gayley, associate professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder; and Dominique Townsend, assistant professor of Buddhist Studies at Bard College in Annandale on Hudson, New York.

The format for the four-day event combined keynote lectures, panels, and breakout sessions in the mornings. The afternoons were dedicated to working on translations-in-progress in small groups. The program started on 13 October with a keynote dialogue between Sarah Harding and Tenzin Dickie. 

There were breakout sessions over the following three days divided into three themes: “Politics of Translation,” “Gender and Genre,” and “New Directions,” along with panels and workshops. A panel dedicated to “Reflections on Translating Women’s Lives and Teachings in the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition” with Karma Lekshe Tsomo, Choela Tenzin Dadon, Ani Choyang, Damchö Diana Finnegan, and Janet Gyatso, was organized on 14 October, followed by three breakout groups: “Women’s Voices in Tibetan Texts,” “Power Dynamics in Fe/male Literary Dialogues,” and “Translating Voices from the Margins.”


Evening events included readings by renowned Tibetan authors, organized with the cooperation of the Tibetan Alliance of Chicago and titled “A Celebration of Tibetan and Himalayan Women Writers.” It featured readings by Kunzang Choden, Tsering Yangzom Lama, Nyima Tso, Kelsang Lhamo, and Tenzin Dickie. 

A keynote address on “Feminist Translation and Translation Studies: In Flux Toward the Transnational” was offered by Luise von Flotow on 15 October, followed by three breakout groups: “Inclusive/Feminist Approaches to Buddhist Translation,” “Literary & Liturgical Representations of Women & the Feminine,” and “Yab Yum Symbolism, Heteronormativity, and Translating Sexual Yoga,” as well as a conversation ontranslating the Khandro Chödzö Chenmo

The program concluded on 16 October with a panel on “Literary Perspectives from Tibetan and Himalayan Women Writers” with Kunzang Chodon, Tsering Yangzom Lama, Nyima Tso, Kelsang Lhamo, and Tashi Dekyidand, and with three breakouts groups: “Translation Fidelity or Intervention—When Should Translators Sanitize Misogyny, Explain It, Reproduce It, or Refuse to Translate It?”, “Translating Contemporary Women’s Writing,” and “Buddhist Tropes of Masculinity.”

See more

The Second Lotsawa Translation Workshop
The 2018 Lotsawa Translation Workshop
Program of the workshop

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