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142086 VO Ritual and History in the Central Himalayas (2021W)



Note: The time of your registration within the registration period has no effect on the allocation of places (no first come, first served).


Language: English

Examination dates



Do 15:00-16:30, SR 1, ab 7.10.
(wird in "gemischter" Form abgehalten:
- max. 27 Personen in Präsenz
- online über Moodle und Zoom)


Aims, contents and method of the course

The Himalayas are a macro-region which is shaped by the meeting and interaction of cultures of the Indian subcontinent and the Central Asian highlands (“Indo-Tibetan interface”) and which has produced a wide variety of religious traditions. In the central part of this extended Himalayan region, on which the focus is placed here (mainly Nepal and adjacent borderlands), the ethnic, or “tribal”, cultures (belonging to various Sino-Tibetan linguistic groups) play an important role to this day. Here we encounter independent performative traditions and distinct ritual complexes that had and still have a strong influence on the dominant “high religions”, namely Hinduism (in the south) and Buddhism (in the north).
The lecture deals with various forms of ritual practice, including local traditions (e.g. shamanic healing, village rituals, ancestral worship) as well as translocal cults (e.g. festivals of the Great Traditions, state rituals, processions and pilgrimage). These traditional practices will be described and analysed within their changing cultural and social contexts, thus highlighting the historical transformations which they have undergone. The aim is on the one hand to give an overview of the great variety of traditions, but on the other hand also to take a comparative perspective and to work out common patterns, similarities and differences. Ultimately this will allow us to outline different types and cultural configurations of ritual practice and ideology, and to reconstruct the most important religious influences in both long-term historical processes of change and more recent transformations in the context of modernising lifeworlds, political upheavals and general reorientations.
• Research history
• Hinduisation, Buddhisation, and Retribalisation
• Shamans and priests
• Community rituals
• Temple rituals and processions
• Ritual healing
• Ritual journeys and pilgrimage
• Marriage as ritual transformation
• Death and the regeneration of life
• Ritual reform and transfer
• New religions, new rituals

Assessment and permitted materials

There will be a written examination at the end of the term (27.01.2022).

Minimum requirements and assessment criteria

Examination topics

Reading list

Blondeau, Anne-Marie & Ernst Steinkellner (eds.) 1996. Reflections of the Mountain: Essays on the history and social meaning of the mountain cult in Tibet and the Himalayas. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

Gellner, David N., Sondra Hausner and Chiara Letizia (eds.) 2016. Religion, secularism, and ethnicity in contemporary Nepal. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Gutschow, Niels and Axel Michaels. 2008. Growing up: Hindu and Buddhist initiation rituals among Newar children in Bhaktapur, Nepal. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Höfer, András. 1994. A Recitation of the Tamang Shaman in Nepal. Bonn: VGH Wissenschaftsverlag.

Holmberg, David H. 1989. Order in Paradox. Myth, Ritual, and Exchange among Nepal's Tamang. Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press.

Karmay, Samten, and Philippe Sagant. (Eds.). 1997. Les habitant du toit du monde (Hommage à Alexander W. Macdonald). Nanterre: Societé d'Ethnologie.

Lecomte-Tilouine, Marie (ed.) 2009. Bards and mediums: history, culture and politics in the Central Himalayan kingdoms. Almora: Almora Book Depot.

Macdonald, Alexander W. (ed.). 1997. Mandala and landscape. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld.

Maskarinec, Gregory G. 1995. The Rulings of the Night: an ethnography of Nepalese shaman oral texts. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press.

Michaels, Axel. 2018. Kultur und Geschichte Nepals. Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner Verlag.

Mocko, Anne T. 2016. Demoting Vishnu: ritual, politics, and the unraveling of Nepal's Hindu monarchy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mumford, Stan Royal. 1989. Himalayan Dialogue: Tibetan lamas and Gurung shamans in Nepal. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press.

Ortner, Sherry B. 1989. High Religion: A Cultural and Political History of Sherpa Budhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Sax, William S. 2009. God of Justice: Ritual Healing and Social Justice in the Central Himalayas. New York: Oxford University Press.

Shneiderman, Sara. 2015. Rituals of ethnicity: Thangmi identities between Nepal and India. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Sidky, Homayun. 2008. Haunted by the archaic shaman: Himalayan jhãkris and the discourse on shamanism. Lanham [u.a.]: Lexington Books.

Toffin, Gérard. 1993. Le palais et le temple. La fonction royale dans la vallée du Népal. Paris: CNRS Editions.

Toffin, Gérard. 2016. Imaginations and realities: Nepal between past and present. New Delhi: Adroit Publishers.

Association in the course directory

BA9, IMAK2, EC2-2

Last modified: Th 20.01.2022 09:48