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Department of Social Anthropology


Valeriya Gazizova (MIASU, University of Cambridge)

Buddhist, Soviet and Kalmyk: ‘Secret’ Lamas of Late Socialism, Their Loci of Worship and Patterns of Transmission

The talk explores the construction of public memories and proliferating cults of dissident Buddhist lamas who secretly conducted ritual services and healed by means of Tibetan Buddhist medicine during the Soviet period in Kalmykia, southwest Russia. The Stalinist purges in the 1930s erased the Buddhist establishment from the public scene, and until the late 1980s, Buddhism and indigenous forms of popular worship and healing remained illegal in Soviet Kalmykia. Despite the state suppression, unofficial Buddhist centres were functioning around former monks, who had received a clerical education (in Russia or abroad) before the anti-religious campaigns and survived years in Gulag prison-camps. Some of these underground Buddhists were ascribed special healing and visionary powers, with stories about their magic abilities abounding. Their deification is now a vivid tendency both on the level of popular religiosity and reconstructed Buddhist institutions, being actively deployed in Kalmyk Buddhist politics. The talk shall address broader topics of ‘secrecy’ and ‘publicity’, as well as the questions of deification, special attainment and secret transmission in Tibetan Buddhism. Exploring the relationship between memory, history and identity formation, I shall feature contemporary Kalmyk representations of both ‘Tibet’ and the ‘Soviet’ as imaginary elsewhere spaces which have become instrumental in constructing what is now often defined as the ‘authentic Kalmyk religion’.  

Tuesday, 29 October, 2019 - 16:30 to 18:00
Event location: 
Seminar room, The Mond Building, Free School Lane