Morality and Monastic Revival in Post-Mao Tibet

Hardback: $80.00
ISBN-13: 9780824869847
Published: March 2019
Paperback: $29.00
ISBN-13: 9780824869854
Published: September 2020

Additional Information

232 pages | 9 b&w illustrations
  • About the Book
  • The speed and extent of the Tibetan Buddhist monastic revival make it one of the most extraordinary stories of religious resurgence in post-Mao China. At the end of the 1970s, there were no working monasteries; within a decade, thousands had been reconstructed and repopulated. Most studies have focused on the political challenges facing Tibetan monasteries, emphasizing their relationship to the Chinese state. Yet, in their efforts to revive and develop their institutions, monks have also had to negotiate a rapidly changing society, playing a delicate balancing act fraught with moral dilemma as well as political danger. Drawing on the recent “moral turn” in anthropology, this volume, the first full-length ethnographic study of the subject, explores the social and moral dimensions of monastic revival and reform across a range of Geluk monasteries in northeast Tibet (Amdo/Qinghai Province) from the 1980s on.

    Author Jane Caple’s analysis shows that ideas and debates about how best to maintain the mundane bases of monastic Buddhism—economy and population—are intermeshed with those concerning the proper role and conduct of monks and the ethics of monastic-lay relations. Facing a shrinking monastic population, monks are grappling with the impacts of secular education, demographic transition, rising living standards, urbanization, and marketization, all of which have driven debates within Buddhism elsewhere and fueled perceptions of monastic decline. Some Tibetans—including monks—are even questioning the “good” of the mass form of monasticism that has been a distinctive feature of Tibetan society for hundreds of years. Given monastic Buddhism’s integral position in Tibetan community life and association with Tibetan identity, Caple argues that its precarity in relation to Tibetan society raises questions about its future that go well beyond the issue of religious freedom.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Jane E. Caple, Author

      Jane E. Caple is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow at the University of Copenhagen.
    • Mark Michael Rowe, Series Editor

      Mark Michael Rowe is associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies, McMaster University.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • [Morality and Monastic Revival in Post-Mao Tibet] is an extensive ethnography concerning Tibetan Buddhist monastic revitalizations since the 1980s. Combining both ethnographic narratives and conceptual discussions of the current debates on approaches and outcomes of contemporary Tibetan studies, the book makes a concerted effort to underscore the ‘subjective experiences, perspectives, and concerns’ of Caple’s Tibetan interlocutors ‘beyond the state’ and in the ‘shifting public space’ of China. Thus, capturing ‘dynamics from ground up’ is its primary attempt. It builds an argument of contemporary Tibetan studies not along the line of ‘state-society power relations’ commonly found in existing publications but rather upon the lived experiences, agencies, and affective senses of Tibetan monks and members of their lay constituencies.
      —Dan Smyer Yü, Yunnan University, China Information
    • In this fascinating book, Jane Caple delves deeply into the intricacies of Buddhist (specifically Geluk) growth and development in the Tibetan Plateau since the 1980s, following the Chinese Communist Party’s relaxation of rules on religion. . . . Caple moves deftly between thick description and analysis, and one of the principal aims of the book is to challenge any reductive approach to Tibetan monastic resurgence. What is most exciting is the analytical challenge that Caple offers to any binary understanding of People’s Republic of China/monastic relationships. She urges us to see these as more than simply ‘an axis of domination and resistance’. Instead, the purpose of this book is to highlight the complicated dance between individuals, communities, and state representatives—the picture of which is never monolithic or simplistic.
      —Caroline Starkey, University of Leeds, Reading Religion
    • Jane Caple’s 2019 book, Morality and Monastic Revival in Post-Mao Tibet, examines the revival of monasticism (mostly within the Geluk school) in Rebgong and western Bayen in Amdo (Qinghai Province) from 2008 to 2015, at sixteen lesser-known scholastic monasteries. Her fieldwork is based on 137 interviews and informal conversations with a wide variety of interlocutors including monastics, nonmonastic specialists, farmers, herders, artisans, businesspeople, students, teachers, and government officials. Her focus on the lived experiences of these individuals rather than solely on grand narratives of the state, economic development, tourism, and the Tibetan community in exile in relation to monastic revival provides a nuanced, emic exploration of localized understandings of these and other relevant issues.
      —Joshua Esler, Sheridan Institute of Higher Education, H-Net: Humanities and Social Science Reviews Online, August 2020
    • I found Morality and Monastic Revival in Post-Mao Tibet to be well-researched, well-written, quite interesting, and fundamentally persuasive. . . . Caple’s skillful and clear chapter organization means that scholars interested in particular aspects of contemporary Tibet (tourism, for example) can easily dive into the relevant chapters. . . . Overall, this book should be virtually required reading for those interested in contemporary Tibetan monasticism, and I strongly recommend it for those interested in contemporary Tibetan religion more broadly.
      —Geoffery Barstow, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Pacific Affairs, 93:4, 2020
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