Special Issue "Pedagogy and Performance in Tibetan Buddhism"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 September 2016)

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Dr. Michael R. Sheehy

Visiting Scholar, Divinity School, Harvard University
Phone: 617.945.8272
Interests: buddhism; the literary in tibet; performative literature; contemplative pedagogy
Guest Editor
Dr. Joshua Schapiro

Department of Theology, Fordham University
Phone: 917.515.4399
Interests: buddhism; rhetoric; performance; pedagogy; philosophy and metaphor; suffering

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This Special Issue explores a wide range of Tibetan Buddhist teaching practices, from the fourteenth century to the present, paying particular attention to the categories of “pedagogy” and “performativity.” The volume addresses, both Tibetans’ strategies for effective teaching, and their diverse approaches to displaying, concealing, and forming themselves as teachers.

Pedagogy has long been an interest of Buddhist scholars, particularly with respect to the ideal of “skillful means” (upāya kauśalya). Historical studies of Buddhist teaching techniques have addressed preaching practices (Mahinda Deegalle, Popularizing Buddhism, SUNY 2006), textbooks and teaching devices (Anne Blackburn, Buddhist Learning and Textual Practices in Eighteenth-Century Lankan Monastic Culture, Princeton 2001), and monastic curricula and debate (Georges Dreyfus, The Sound of Two Hands Clapping, University of California 2002). Questions of pedagogy have been of especially pressing interest for those reflecting on the creative adaptation of Buddhist forms for contemporary audiences. In one particularly insightful essay, the very idea of “pedagogy” is used to complicate our understanding of encounters between Buddhist teachings and “non-Asian consumers” at large (Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Pedagogy of Buddhism” 2003). This present Special Issue aspires to enrich these conversations by introducing as wide a variety of Tibetan pedagogical contexts as possible: from didactic narratives to biographies, from hostile confrontations to intimate guru-disciple transmissions, from monastic debates to public miracles, from teaching the body to denying that one is teaching anything at all.

A number of essays in this issue choose to consider how the idea of “performance” helps to clarify what is at stake in Tibetan pedagogy. The categories of “performance” and “performativity” have a long history in the Humanities and Social Sciences. As Catherine Bell efficiently summarizes in her entry on “Performance” in Critical Terms for Religious Studies (Chicago 1998), despite the popularity of the term, there is little uniformity in its usage. Scholars speak of performance with respect to ritual enactments and improvisations, illocutionary speech acts, verbal art, and the formation of subjectivities. Scholars of Tibetan culture have capitalized on this range of possibility: writing on the consequences of ritual performance on the distribution of power relations (Martin Mills, Identity, Ritual and State in Tibetan Buddhism, Routledge 2010), and on self-immolations as rhetorically-infused performances (John Whalen-Bridge, Tibet On Fire, Palgrave Macmillan 2015), for example. Scholars in this volume apply theories of performativity in diverse ways in order to bring to life the sophistication of Tibetan Buddhist pedagogical negotiations.

Dr. Michael Sheehy
Dr. Joshua Schapiro
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 350 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • Buddhism
  • Tibetan Buddhism
  • pedagogy
  • performance
  • performativity

Published Papers (1 paper)

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Open AccessArticle Constituting Canon and Community in Eleventh Century Tibet: The Extant Writings of Rongzom and His Charter of Mantrins (sngags pa’i bca’ yig)
Religions 2017, 8(3), 40; doi:10.3390/rel8030040
Received: 2 September 2016 / Revised: 26 February 2017 / Accepted: 1 March 2017 / Published: 15 March 2017
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This paper explores some of the work of Rongzom Chökyi Zangpo (hereafter Rongzom) and attempts to situate his pedagogical influence within the “Old School” or Nyingma (rnying ma) tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.1 A survey of Rongzom’s extant writings indicates that
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This paper explores some of the work of Rongzom Chökyi Zangpo (hereafter Rongzom) and attempts to situate his pedagogical influence within the “Old School” or Nyingma (rnying ma) tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.1 A survey of Rongzom’s extant writings indicates that he was a seminal exegete and a particularly important philosopher and interpreter of Buddhism in Tibet. He was an influential intellectual flourishing in a period of cultural rebirth, when there was immense skepticism about Tibetan compositions. His work is thereby a source of insight into the indigenous Tibetan response to the transformations of a renaissance-era in which Indian provenance became the sine qua none of religious authority. Rongzom’s “charter” (bca’ yig), the primary focus of the essay, is an important document for our understanding of Old School communities of learning. While we know very little of the social realities of Old School communities in Rongzom’s time, we do know that they were a source of concern for the emerging political and religious authorities in Western Tibet. As such, the review below argues that the production of the charter should be seen, inter alia, as an effort at maintaining autonomy in the face of a rising political power. The analysis also provides insights into the nature of the social obligations operant within Rongzom’s community—constituted as it was by a combination of ritually embodied and discursive philosophical modes of learning. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Pedagogy and Performance in Tibetan Buddhism)

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: The History of Monastic Textbook in Gomang Monastic College (II): Seventeenth to Eighteenth Century
Affiliation: Assistant Professor of Asian Philosophy, Stockton University
Abstract: This paper discusses the creation and completion of the second monastic textbook by Jamyang Shaypa (1648-1721/22) in Gomang Monastic College in Drepung Monastery from the seventeenth century to the eighteenth century. When was composing the new monastic textbooks, despite a general assumption that the new monastic textbooks would be established to correct incorrect presentations in the old monastic textbooks, the course of the replacement of textbooks tells us that correcting the former textbooks is not the only reason. By chronologically examining the old and new monastic textbooks, I will explain the course of the replacement of monastic textbooks in Gomang Monastic College.

Title: The Practice of Nyingma Philosophy: Pedagogy in the Work of Rongzom Chokyi Zangpo
Abstract: Rongzom Chokyi Zangpo (hereafter Rongzom or Rongzompa) is a prominent figure in the pantheon of Tibetan Buddhism. Active in the eleventh century, a particularly formative period of Tibetan religious life, Rongzom made vital contributions to the pedagogy of the Nyingma tradition, particularly in terms of autochthonous composition, philosophy, philosophical ethics, and hermeneutics; but the influence of his pedagoy on the Nyingma tradition is not well-known. This article therefore explores Rongzom’s contribution to the Nyingma tradition of composition, philosophy, and hermeneutics. In particular, this article examines passages concerning the value and ethics of philosophical practice—that is, on passages that discuss the when, how and why of engaging in philosophical disputation with others. As such, this article brings to light material that helped later scholars formulate the distinctive Nyingma contribution to Tibetan religious culture.


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