Envisioning the Buddhist Mandala of Bhutan: The Importance of Terminology, Language, and “Secularities”

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Tibetan emic terminologies used as functional equivalents for “religion” and “politics” in Bhutanese textual sources shed light on institutionalized and conceptualized boundaries between societal spheres in pre-modern Bhutan―in the spirit of the multiple secularities approach understood as social distinction and differentiation in a non-evaluating sense. Among the three major Buddhist governments established in the Tibetan cultural area in the 17th century, the Bhutanese government, nowadays as a constitutional monarchy with a Buddhist king, is the only one still in existence. Since Bhutan’s societal order is still profoundly grounded in the cosmological order of Tantric Buddhism, I present here an alternative analytical and inclusive framework for determining social distinction and differentiation in Bhutan in a chronological perspective that does include not only actual institutional arrangements but also integrates formative religious-doctrinal conceptualizations. Consequently, discourses about Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) can adequately consider the importance of terminology, language, and “secularities.”

Dagmar Schwerk is the Khyentse Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Tibetan Buddhist Studies at the University of British Columbia and recipient of the Khyentse Foundation Award for Excellence in Buddhist Studies 2012. Her forthcoming monograph addresses the longstanding philosophical debate about Mahāmudrā, an essential Buddhist doctrine and meditative system in Tibetan Buddhism, from a Bhutanese perspective. In general, her research focuses on Tibetan and Bhutanese intellectual and political history.


Dagmar Schwerk
Khyentse Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Tibetan Buddhist Studies, University of British Columbia

Christoph Emmrich
Director, Centre for South Asian Studies; Associate Professor in Buddhist Studies, University of Toronto

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Centre for South Asian Studies

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