Morality and Monastic Revival in Post-Mao Tibet

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Hardback: $65.00 $45.50
ISBN-13: 9780824869847
Published: March 2019
Paperback: $29.00 $20.30
ISBN-13: 9780824869854
Published: September 2020

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232 pages | 9 b&w illustrations
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  • 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
    • [<I>Morality and Monastic Revival in Post-Mao Tibet</I>] 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. Drawing on detailed multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork taking place over a seven-year period, Caple examines the recent trajectories of sixteen Buddhist monastic communities, particularly in the ways they use built space, their engagement with local communities, and the new models of economic sustainability and development they are employing. . . . 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