Category: Projects

Mapping an Epic: Religion and Healing in Inner Asia

This program’s general goal – to map the King Gesar epic’s “therapeutic geographies” as a way of studying the intersections between religion and medicine in Inner Asia – is organized around three intertwined research objectives. We plan (1) to examine episodes in this vast epic tradition that depict healing acts or geographic sites that provide healing power; (2) to explore how “Gesar-inflected” healing has spread beyond the epic to ritual literature and practice; and (3) to analyze these geographic, narrative and scholarly sites of healing knowledge, practice and power with the use of an integrated set of digital maps and tools. To support this research we will configure an international research partnership linking scholars and students at the University of Toronto, the University of Virginia, Cardiff University in the UK, Qinghai Nationalities University in China, and the Arura Tibetan Medical Group in China. Over the initial three-year “development” phase of the project (2011-14), we also plan to solidify additional partnerships with the National University of Mongolia and with the Canadian Tibetan Association of Ontario in Toronto, a development that will in turn expand the project’s research scope.

Gold, Statue, Text: Visualizing Movement in Tibetan History

This is a pilot project for a new approach to visualizing the movement of people and things around culturally significant places. Through this research a group of scholars active across multiple disciplines will take the historic Tibetan site of Shalu (Zhwa lu) Monastery as a case study for examining interactions between people, things and places through the creation of interactive, spatial-temporal maps. Focusing on the active and ongoing creation of “place” through material and social exchange, this project will map movements of people (founders, abbots, patrons and artisans) and things (building materials, precious metals, paintings and statues) that defined the character and history of Shalu through time. We propose that by visualizing history in this way, we may facilitate knowledge that is both particular and interactive, allowing us to see how particular histories, cultures and social exchanges are defined and created by and through particular people, things and places.

Empowering the Medicine

This project focuses on Tibetan historical and contemporary ritual practice in the medical tradition, oriented primarily around a study of Empowering the Medicine (sman grub), a procedure during which doctors ceremonially bless medicinal substances. We are focusing on the textual documentation of this tradition and also conducting fieldwork in Tibet.

Interpreting Visual Representations of Tibetan Ritual

monks watching wedding

This project, ongoing now in Tibet and Toronto, is creating a cross-cultural collaborative model for the interpretation of visual media. Drawing on ideas and methods from Digital Humanities, Visual Anthropology, Religious Studies and Literary Theory, the project’s model is an innovative application of technology to visual anthropological and multimedia archival research. Following visual culture theorists, the project sees images as socially constructed forms of expression, rather than as empirical windows into “reality,” and thus emphasizes a critical perspective that cultural events may be understood from many different viewpoints. Our interpretive model puts this viewpoint into practice by utilizing a digital environment for collaborative analyses of ethnographic video. The ethnographic knowledge generated within this environment, shaped by concerns of voice, authorship and authority, offers a new and dynamic web of “truths” about visual representation and the cultural spaces it depicts.

Tibetan Medicine Resources

This project focuses on the development of multimedia resources for the study of Tibetan medicine. The project is now hosted at http://tibetanmedicine.chass.utoronto.ca. Most materials were collected for the Tibetan and Himalayan Library (THL), primarily between 2000 and 2002, in Lhasa. While the project now focuses only on Tibetan medicine as practiced in Central Tibet, I am now in conversation with medical institutions in Amdo regions of China about developing a similar body of resources for the study of medicine in that area.