SOAS University of London

China & Inner Asia Section, Department of East Asian Languages & Cultures

Cultural History of Tibet

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Full Year

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, students should be familiar not only with the basic outlines of Tibetan history from ancient times to the present, but should also have a working knowledge of some of the key themes running throughout Tibet’s history. Further, students will be able to demonstrate a basic understanding of the sources for Tibetan history and some of the methods that inform the writing of history both in a Tibetan context and in a Western and international context. Students shall have gained confidence in their ability to use secondary sources and communicate their ideas clearly in writing and orally. At the end of the course those students embarking on a year abroad in Lhasa should also be well prepared for their ISPs.


This course will be taught over 22 weeks with 2 hours per week classroom contact.

Scope and syllabus

Beginning with Tibetan geography and prehistory, the course introduces the land and people of Tibet and the Tibetan cultural area, which extends into the PRC, Nepal, India and Pakistan. The course then moves chronologically through the history of Tibet, placing particular emphasis on the formative period of the Tibetan Empire (600–850 CE), the Tibetan renaissance (950–1200) and the rise of the Dalai Lamas in the seventeenth century. Throughout this historical survey, the course spotlights persistent issues such as sacred kingship, the preservation of lineages, and the relationship of ritual and narrative to religious and political power.

In addition to the historical survey, the course also covers crucial topics such as Tibetan art, literature, governance, law, kinship, inheritance, diaspora, impression management and Western images of Tibet.

This course is core for year two of the BA Tibetan and . . . degree and year one of the BA Chinese and Tibetan degree

Method of assessment

One three-hour written examination taken in May/June (40%); one essay of 1,500 words to be submitted on the day of teaching, week 1, term 2 (10%); one essay of 2,500 words to be submitted on the day of teaching, week 1, term 3 (20%); response papers to be submitted at the beginning of each lecture (20%); three oral presentations (10%).

Suggested reading

  • Kapstein, M. The Tibetans (Oxford: Blackwells, 2006).
  • McKay, A., ed. History of Tibet (3 vols.) (London: Routledge Curzon, 2003).
  • Stein, R.A. Tibetan Civilization (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1972).

Additional Texts:

  • Davidson, R. Tibetan Renaissance (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005).
  • Dodin and Räther, eds., Imagining Tibet: Perceptions, Projections, & Fantasies (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2001).
  • Goldstein, M. A History of Modern Tibet, 1913-1951 (Berkeley: U. of California Press, 1989).
  • Goldstein and Kapstein, eds., Buddhism in contemporary Tibet (Berkeley: U. of California Press, 1998).
  • Karmay, S.G. The Arrow and the Spindle (Kathmandu: Mandala Book Point, 1998).
  • Lopez, D., ed. Religions of Tibet in Practice (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).
  • Samuel, G. Civilized Shamans (Washington: Smithsonian Insitution, 1993).
  • Shakya, T. The Dragon in the Land of Snows (London: Pimlico, 1999).
  • Snellgrove, D. Indo-Tibetan Buddhism (Boston: Shambhala, 1987).
  • Snellgrove and Richardson. A Cultural History of Tibet (Boston: Shambhala, 1968).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules