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More Alive Than All the Living: Sovereign Bodies and Cultural Politics in Buddhist Siberia

More Alive Than All the Living: Sovereign Bodies and Cultural Politics in Buddhist Siberia
170 St. George Street, room 317
Time: Feb 27th, 3:00 pm End: Feb 27th, 5:00 pm
Interest Categories: South Asian, Slavic Studies (FAS), Religion, Study of (FAS), Political Science, East Asian Studies (FAS), Diaspora/Transnational
Lecture by Anya Bernstein, Harvard University

The University of Toronto Department of Historical Studies (UTM) and Department for the Study of Religion (UTSG) and the McMaster University Numata Program in Buddhist Studies are pleased to present:

Anya Bernstein, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University

More Alive than All the Living: Sovereign Bodies and Cultural Politics in Buddhist Siberia

This talk explores religious practice among Buryats, a Siberian people, through scholarship on sovereignty and the body. Under conditions of rapid social transformation such as those that accompanied the Russian Revolution, the Cold War, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, certain religious bodies became key sites through which Buryats have negotiated their relationship with the Russian state and the larger Tibeto- Mongol and Eurasian Buddhist worlds. Despite the Russian government’s continuing reluctance to see its subjects cross borders, Buryats have maintained their long-standing mobility ‘across spatial borders of nation-states and temporal horizons between life and death’ by employing characteristically Buddhist ‘body politics’ that can both conform to and diplomatically challenge Russian logics of political rule. Specific bodies constructed by some Buryat Buddhists as ‘ideal sovereigns’, ‘bodies that are fluid, mobile across time and space, and transgressive of geopolitical borders and, ultimately, death’ become metonymic for broader cosmic processes.

As an anthropologist and documentary filmmaker, Anya Bernstein's main work has been on the changing geopolitical imaginaries of mobile religious communities across Eurasia. Her forthcoming book, Religious
Bodies Politic: Rituals of Sovereignty in Buryat Buddhism
(Chicago, edp 2013), explores the transformation of Buddhist practice among a Siberian indigenous people known as Buryats, foremost through their post-Soviet renewal of transnational ties with their fellow co-religionists across north and south Asia. To capture these issues ethnographically, Bernstein conducted multi-sited field research in Buryat communities in Siberia as well as in Tibetan monasteries in India where some Buryat monks currently receive their religious education. The book focuses on the ways in which religion and politics have intersected under conditions of rapid social change in terms raised by recent work on sovereignty and postsocialism. As a visual anthropologist Bernstein has directed, filmed, and produced several award-winning documentary films on Buryat Buddhism and shamanism, including Join Me in Shambhala (2002) and In Pursuit of the Siberian Shaman (2006).

For questions and further information please contact Professor Christoph Emmrich or the Department for the Study of Religion, (416) 978-6463.

This event is free and open to the public.  Registration is not required.

Anya Bernstein will also lead a reading group at McMaster University in Hamilton ON, on Friday 28 February from 4-6 pm in University Hall, Room 122.  The title of that event is "Buddhist Body Politics: Life, Death and Reincarnation in Transnational Eurasia"

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