SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Magic as a Category of Practice in Tibetan Buddhism

Sam van Schaik

Date: 5 December 2019Time: 5:30 PM

Finishes: 5 December 2019Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: RG51

Type of Event: Lecture


From the early stages of Buddhism, monks have used spells to heal the sick, repel evil spirits, perform divination, and bring rain. Yet these activities are often overlooked in Buddhist studies. The word 'magic' is evocative but troublesome. Most of us have an idea of what it means, but it is notoriously difficult to define. In recent years, the usefulness of the concept of ‘magic’ itself has, like ‘religion’, been called into question, yet the category of magic continues to be used, especially in the studies of manuscript cultures. In this talk I will explore how the concept of ‘magic’ can help us to bring Buddhist manuscripts and practices into focus and understand them better. I will explore the presence of magical rituals in early Buddhist scriptures, and continuities through to what is practiced today by modern ritual specialists. I will argue that practitioners of magic have played a key role in establishing and maintaining links between Buddhist monasteries and lay communities, and in the spread of Buddhism beyond India, across the Silk Routes into China and Tibet.

Sam van Schaik, British Library, London

Sam van Schaik is Head of the Endangered Archives Programme at the British Library, funded by the Arcadia Trust. He has previously worked for the International Dunhuang Project at the British Library, and has been a principal investigator on the projects Beyond Boundaries: Religion, Region, Language and the State (ERC), Tibetan Zen (British Academy) and Tibetan and Chinese Paleography (Leverhulme Trust).

Organiser: Christian Faggionato

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