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Tibetology (Tibetan: བོད་རིག་པ།, Wylie: bod-rig-pa) refers to the study of things related to Tibet, including its history, religion, language, culture, politics and the collection of Tibetan articles of historical, cultural and religious significance.[1] The last may mean a collection of Tibetan statues, shrines, Buddhist icons and holy scripts, Thangka embroideries, paintings and tapestries, jewellery, masks and other objects of fine Tibetan art and craftsmanship.[2][3]


A Thanka painting inside the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, in Gangtok

The Jesuit Antonio de Andrade (1580–1634) and a few others established a small mission and church in Tsaparang (1626), in the kingdom of Guge (Western Tibet) in the 17th century. When the kingdom was overrun by the king of Ladakh (1631), the mission was destroyed.[4]

A century later another Jesuit, the Italian Ippolito Desideri (1684–1733) was sent to Tibet and received permission to stay in Lhasa where he spent 5 years (1716–1721) living in a Tibetan monastery, studying the language, the religion of the lamas and other Tibetan customs.[5] He published a couple of books in Tibetan on Christian doctrine. Because of a conflict of jurisdiction (the mission was entrusted to the Capuchins, and not to the Jesuits) Desideri had to leave Tibet and returned to Italy, where he spent the rest of his life publishing his Historical notes on Tibet. They were collected, in 4 volumes, under the title of Opere Tibetane (Rome;1981–1989). Desideri may be considered as the first Tibetologist and he did much to make Tibet known in Europe.[6]

Desideri was however a pioneer, and as such what he produced were rather 'observations' on Tibet, a work he did with objectivity and sympathy, but not always perfect accuracy. The inception of Tibetology as an authentic academic discipline is thus associated with the Hungarian Sándor Kőrösi Csoma (1784–1842) who is considered as its founder to present day,[7] the other early Tibetologists of note being Philippe Édouard Foucaux who in 1842 occupied the first chair for Tibetan studies in Europe[a] and Isaac Jacob Schmidt, who was primarily the pioneering mongolist residing in Saint Petersburg.[8]

The publications of the British diplomat Charles Alfred Bell contributed towards the establishment of Tibetology as an academic discipline. As outstanding Tibetologists of the 20th century the British Frederick William Thomas, David Snellgrove, Michael Aris, and Richard Keith Sprigg, the Italians Giuseppe Tucci and Luciano Petech, the Frenchmen Jacques Bacot and Rolf Alfred Stein, finally the Germans Dieter Schuh and Klaus Sagaster, may be mentioned.[9]

In recent decades, particularly in English-speaking countries, the study of Tibet and Tibetology has opened out towards other disciplines, prompting works with an interdisciplinary approach. This has become most obvious in the regular conferences of the IATS (International Association of Tibetan Studies), held at intervals of three years in different cities around the world. Examples of such broader-based research include the work of the American anthropologist Melvyn Goldstein, among others, who has produced publications on subjects such as lexical questions, Tibetan nomadism, and the modern history of Tibet. Other recent research includes the work of Robert Barnett, Matthew Kapstein, Elliot Sperling, Alex McKay, Geoffrey Samuel, Flavio Geisshuesler, among others.[10]


See also



  1. ^ At the school of Oriental Studies in Paris. See:Le Calloc'h, Bernard. "Philippe-Edouard Foucaux: First Tibetan teacher in Europe." Tibet Journal 12.1 (1987): 39-49.


  1. ^ Dotson, B. (2009). Contemporary Visions in Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the First International Seminar of Young Tibetologists. Serindia Publications. ISBN 978-1-932476-45-3. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  2. ^ Shih, C.; Chen, Y.W. (2018). Tibetan Studies in Comparative Perspective. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1-317-98059-9. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  3. ^ Coleman, G. (2016). A Handbook Of Tibetan Culture: A Guide to Tibetan Centres and Resources Throughout the World. Ebury Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4735-5022-3. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  4. ^ Kerin, M.R. (2015). Art and Devotion at a Buddhist Temple in the Indian Himalaya. Contemporary Indian Studies. Indiana University Press. p. 217. ISBN 978-0-253-01309-5. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  5. ^ Chapman, F.S. (1940). Lhasa the Holy City. Readers Union Limited.
  6. ^ Anderson, C.; Cattoi, T. (2022). The Routledge Handbook of Buddhist-Christian Studies. Routledge Handbooks in Religion. Taylor & Francis. p. 156. ISBN 978-1-000-63728-1. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  7. ^ Terjék, J.; Csoma, S.K. (1986). Grammar of the Tibetan Language. Bibliotheca Orientalis Hungarica Series. Akadémiai Kiadó. ISBN 978-963-05-4361-3. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  8. ^ Cox, S. (2022). The Subtle Body: A Genealogy. Oxford Studies in Western Esotericism. Oxford University Press. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-19-758105-6. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  9. ^ Bell, C.A. (1927). Tibet, Past & Present. Oxford University Press : H. Milford. p. 175. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  10. ^ Coward, H.; Smith, G.S. (2012). Religion and Peacebuilding. SUNY series in Religious Studies. State University of New York Press. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-7914-8585-9. Retrieved 2024-03-11.
  11. ^ Richardson, Hugh (Winter 1990). "Introduction". The Tibet Journal. 15 (4): 3–4. JSTOR 43300372.
  12. ^ "One Hundred Thousand Moons: An Advanced Political History of Tibet". Brill. Archived from the original on 16 March 2016. Retrieved 13 February 2018.
  13. ^ Pommaret, Françoise (February 2011). "Reviewed Work(s): One Hundred Thousand Moons: An Advanced Political History of Tibet". The Journal of Asian Studies. 70 (1): 230–233. JSTOR 41302243.

Other sources

  • Tsering Shakya: The Development of Modern Tibetan Studies. In: Robert Barnett (Hg.): Resistance and Reform in Tibet (Bloomington/Indianapolis, Indiana University Press 1994), ISBN 0-253-31131-4, S. 1–14.
  • SHAKABPA, W. D. 1967. Tibet: A Political History [With plates and maps.]. Yale University Press: New Haven & London.
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