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Dr. Nikolay Tsyrempilov, “The Buriat Lamas at the Interface between Two Empires”

On March 5th, 2014, Dr. Nikolay Tsyrempilov, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Mongolian, Tibetan, and Buddhist Studies in the Russian Academy of Sciences, gave a CEUS colloquium talk entitled “The Buriat Lamas at the Interface between Two Empires.”  Dr. Tsyrempilov is also currently a member of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study.

His specialization is in the modern history of Tibet and Mongolia and the history of Tibetan Buddhist communities in Russia.  His main focus is then on the Buriats, a small Mongolian-speaking ethnic and religious minority inhabiting the area around Lake Baikal in Siberia. Dr. Tsyrempilov argues that to truly understand the history of frontier peoples like the Buriats, we must consider them within the context of imperial macro systems.  The colonization strategies and bureaucracies of both the Romanov and Qing empires must be discussed, yet too often Buriat scholarship is located solely within Russian studies. 

The colonial policies of Russia influenced those of the Qing, as both empires worked to establish effective control over the social structures of their conquered peoples while having a lack of troops and finances to firmly concentrate on mobile groups.  The Manchus of the Qing Empire then viewed Tibetan Buddhism as an important vehicle for gaining control over Tibetans and Mongolians and worked themselves into its pre-existing institutions to monopolize access.  In comparison, the Russian czars were very closely allied with Orthodox Christianity and could not accept Buddhism as an alternative religion.

Dr. Tsyrempilov argues that Buriat Buddhists employed “skillful means” and “active defense” strategies to use the different Russian administrative systems against each other to create spaces to continue practicing. Located in the frontier zone, the Buriat Buddhists exploited the contradictions of the Qing and Russian empires to survive.

The full lecture can be accessed here.

This CEUS colloquium was supported by the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center, the Mongolia Society, the Russian and East European Institute, the Religious Studies Department, and the Central Eurasian Studies Department.