Friday March 22nd, 3-5 pm
Jackman Humanities Building room 317
University of Toronto, St. George campus
Prof. Geoffrey Samuel
The Concept of Zomia and its Relevance to Tibetan Studies
The term ‘Zomia’ was introduced in 2002 in an article by the Dutch sociologist and Bangladesh specialist Willem van Schendel as part of a critique of the dominance of Asian studies by approaches derived from the major ‘Area Studies’ communities (South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, Central Asia). It referred to the highland regions of Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Yunnan, Bangladesh, Northeast India and Eastern Tibet, variously treated as peripheral to one or another of the ‘major’ areas, but arguably an area with its own cultural and historical integrity which is lost when it is divided up in this way. The Yale political scientist James Scott took the ‘Zomia’ concept in a different direction in his influential book The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Southeast Asia (2009), describing ‘Zomia’ as, until recently, a refuge zone, the last place on earth to avoid incorporation into centralised states. Van Schendel and Scott’s work have generated a flurry of ‘Zomian’ articles and critiques, including a special issue of history of J. Global History (vol.5, 2010) with two articles (by Sara Shneiderman and Pat Giersch) of direct relevance to Tibet. But is it useful to see Tibet in a ‘Zomian’ frame, and how might our understanding of Tibetan society and culture, Buddhism included, change if we did?
Geoffrey Samuel, Tung Lin Kok Yuen Distinguished Visiting Professor in Buddhist Studies 2012-13, is Professor at the Department of History, Archaeology and Religion at Cardiff University where he is also Director of the Research Group on the Body, Health and Religion. His fields of research and teaching are religion in Tibetan societies, Tibetan and Indian medical practices, Asian technologies of consciousness, religion and modernity, the anthropology of dance and music as well as shamanism and ‘nature religions’. His research interests extend from Tibet to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Among his most influential works are The Origins of Yoga and Tantra: Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York, 2008) and Civilized Shamans: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies (Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC. 1993; Paperback edition 1995; also Asian edition, Mandala Book Point, Kathmandu, 1995). At the University of Toronto Geoffrey Samuel has given several talks, is teaching two undergraduate courses and will be holding a conference.
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