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Workshop in the History of Material Texts

Brenton Sullivan (Colgate), "Buddhist Monastic Constitutions"

Buddhist monastic constitution roll

Monday, October 18, 2021, 5:15pm, in person and via Zoom*

*For Zoom information, please please contact Aylin Malcolm.

Our speaker writes:

One might be inclined to think of Buddhist monasteries as quiet retreats, comprising an organically formed community of spiritual adepts. However, the most influential monasteries in Tibet and Mongolia, some of which are the largest in the world, are precisely the opposite. The monasteries of the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism—the school to which the Dalai Lama belongs—are filled with the sounds of chanting and debate at assembly. They are administered and operate according to procedures and expectations codified in the monasteries’ founding documents, their “constitutions” (T. bca’ yig, pronounced “chayik”). In this presentation we will look at several examples of these constitutions and consider the innovative and prodigious production of constitutions by the Geluk school in their conquest of the spiritual landscape of Tibet and Mongolia.

About our speaker:

Brenton Sullivan is Associate Professor of Religion at Colgate University. In his recent book, Building a Religious Empire: Tibetan Buddhism, Bureaucracy, and the Rise of the Gelukpa (UPenn Press, 2020), Sullivan utilizes constitutions written for Buddhist monasteries as well as Chinese and Tibetan historical materials to uncover the role of Buddhist prelates in legislating and administering their monasteries. Sullivan’s new book project, “The Golden Bridge between China and Tibet,” aims to consider the efforts of early Geluk missionaries and local Mongolic patrons on the frontiers between China, Tibet, and Mongolia, figures whose contributions to history have been overshadowed by later “great men” such as the “Great Fifth” Dalai Lama (1617-1682). Two other concurrent projects are, first, translating a Tibetan-language book manuscript on the history of the Monguors and, second, a social network analysis of two major eighteenth-century Geluk prelates from northeastern Tibet.

Talks will be held live, in person, in the Class of 78 Pavilion, 6th floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library. They will also be available via Zoom (please contact us for details). All are welcome. If you would like to receive details on future talks, please sign up for our listserv using this link or visit the Workshop website.

The Workshop in the History of Material Texts is supported by the School of Arts and Sciences through the Department of English and hosted by the Penn Libraries. The co-directors of the seminar are Professor Zachary Lesser (English), Jerry Singerman (Penn Press, Emeritus), and John Pollack (Kislak Center, Penn Libraries).

Associated with the workshop is the book series in Material Texts published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, which includes many monographs that have emerged from presentations given at the workshop over the years.

For more information, please contact Aylin Malcolm.