Sacred Topography and Cultural Transfers in the Himalayas

University of Vienna,
Department of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies,
Seminar Room 1
24-25 May 2013
(Organization: Prof. Dr. Klaus-Dieter Mathes)

This symposium is part of the larger research project (or “doctoral college” / Initiativkolleg) “Cultural Transfers and Cross-Contacts in the Himalayan Borderlands” (CIRDIS) which brings together several faculties (spanning the humanities, social and natural sciences) at the University of Vienna.

It focuses on:

the study of spatial transfers, namely, how certain aspects of Himalayan cultures can be located in geographical space in terms of trade route networks or pilgrimage routes and sites. Space and landscape are thus not only an objectively given geographic reality but also an environment that is fundamentally reconstructed by social, cultural, and religious meaning. For example, the pure visions of sacred mountains, rocks and lakes as the abodes of local, Bon, and Buddhist deities, or occasionally even as the proper deities themselves, did not only prepare the ground for pilgrimages with their related festivals and rituals, but were also important strategies used by competing schools and traditions to project their power into new areas. In this context, it is of particular interest how old local cults were incorporated, mostly in an inclusivist way, by more universal forms of religion, especially from India and the Southern Himalayas. This has to be seen against the backdrop of the Himalayas as a border area whose rugged terrain allowed both the development of cultural diversity and, at the same time, intercultural encounters.

The symposium aims at a larger framework of comparative approaches, which combines focused area studies, such as the documentation of Himalayan mountain cults or power places, with a broader interdisciplinary view of cultural processes in the fields of art history, imaginary geographies, South Asian, Tibetan, and Buddhist studies. State of the art discourses in the field start to replace essentialist notions of clearly demarcated entities, such as traditions, ethnic groups, or nation states, by concepts of dynamic processes of interconnections. This happened to the extent that one can already discern a paradigm shift to what we call cultural transfers and what has been occasionally labeled “entangled histories” (Randeria 2002), or “histoire croisée” (Werner & Zimmermann 2006).

(from the conference website:

For the conference program, click here.

Cite this blog post
Nicolas Sihlé (2013, May 15). Sacred Topography and Cultural Transfers in the Himalayas. The Himalayas and beyond. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from

Nicolas Sihlé

Nicolas Sihlé, a sociocultural anthropologist, is researcher at the Center for Himalayan Studies, a research unit of the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) based in Villejuif (France). He specializes on Tibetan religion and society, and is the author of Rituels bouddhiques de pouvoir et de violence : La figure du tantriste tibétain [Buddhist rituals of power and violence : The figure of the Tibetan tantrist] (Brepols, 2013). His current work focuses on post-Mao socioreligious transitions in and around the famous communities of non-monastic specialists of tantric Buddhism in northeast Tibet (Amdo), and more generally on the comparative anthropology of Buddhism.

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