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Traditional Religions, Secularisms, and Revivals: Buddhism and Shamanism in Northern Eurasia


CERES-Palais, Raum "Ruhrpott" (4.13)

Focusing on Buddhism and Shamanism in Russia, Mongolia, Central Asia, Tibet, and the Himalayas, the workshop will trace the introduction of Eurocentric secular projects of defining and limiting religion to cultural contexts in which religions, philosophies, and worldviews fundamentally challenge these secular definitions. The categories of “religion” and “secularism” are both products of European modern intellectual history, but they developed out of European perceptions of Christianity and its contrast to non-European “others” and their religions.

Scholarship on secularism and its effects, however, has focused overwhelmingly on monotheistic contexts, largely ignoring the role of secularism and the category of religion in socialist secular projects and non-monotheistic religious traditions. The concept of “religion” was not merely imposed from above. It was appropriated and redefined by Buddhists and Shamanists in the twentieth and twenty-first century creating new hierarchies and stimulating new asymmetrical power relations.

Since the early twentieth century Buddhism was increasingly used in the processes of nation-building, while Shamanism was continuously marginalized. The socialist secular project in Siberia, Mongolia, and Central Asia demonstrated attempts to integrate religion into building new states (1920s), rigid anti-religious campaigns (1930s), and the moderate recognition and even support of organized religion (1950s–1980s). In contemporary Mongolia and Siberia, Buddhism has once again been elevated to the status of “national” or “traditional” religion, while in Nepal it
became a marker of one’s subnational ethnic belonging. In view of the expectations about what national or traditional religion is supposed to be, Shamanism remained contested in all four regional contexts, yet became increasingly popular in heterogeneous revival movements defying
both state and religious authority.

Examining the ways in which secular projects intersected with Buddhist and Shamanist religious projects promises to open new perspectives on secularism, socialism, and colonialism. Nikolay Tsyrempilov (Nazarbayev University) will give a keynote lecture.