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Guest Lecture: “Tighter Than a Silken Knot and Heavier Than a Golden Yoke”: Tibetan Metaphors of the Religious and Political Between Imagination and Social Reality

Monday Meeting

CERES Palais, room "Ruhrpott" (4.13)

Picture: Sonam Chophel and Dawa Tshering

Guest Lecture by Dr. Dagmar Schwerk (Leipzig University)

What can metaphors in Bhutanese pre-modern legal codices and religious histories tell us about social differentiation between the spheres of religion and politics and Buddhist cosmology in the Tibetan cultural area? What functions do metaphors fulfill in these works and, how have they become so potent in creating meaning, identity, and authority within the Buddhist polity in Bhutan? In other words, what do metaphors tell us about the transcendence-immanence distinction in the Tibetan cultural area? In this talk, Dagmar Schwerk will reflect on these questions based on a textual analysis of different metaphors from the Bhutanese Legal Code from 1729 and related Bhutanese (and Tibetan) works.

As a background, Bhutan provides a unique historical and analytical setting for two reasons. First, Bhutan is the only country in the Tibetan cultural area that still possesses a pre-modern structural continuity in the form of the “Joint Twofold System of Governance” (Tibetan: chos srid gnyis ldan/chos srid zung ’jug/chos kyi rgyal srid). It represents a pre-modern form of differentiation between the societal spheres of religion,
politics, and economy common in the Tibetan cultural area. However, today, Bhutan is the only surviving example as Sikkim and Tibet no longer exist independently. Second, Bhutan’s societal elites have always been intensely engaged in cultural encounters with Asian and later Western nations and colonial powers, but Bhutan was never colonized. Therefore, Bhutan is a unique case in point with its continued Tibetan Buddhist form of governance—albeit in a modernized way institutionalized in the Bhutanese constitution.

Hence, for an additional diachronic and contemporary perspective in our discussion, Dagmar Schwerk will also briefly address both the relationship between metaphors and Bhutan’s sustainable development model of “Gross National Happiness” (GNH) and, more broadly, the conceptual centrality of these metaphors in understanding the complexity of the unique relationship between the spheres of religion and politics in Bhutan today.

The lecture will also be available via Zoom. To participate, please pre-register until 11 November 2022 at: