Religious Bodies PoliticRituals of Sovereignty in Buryat Buddhism

Religious Bodies PoliticRituals of Sovereignty in Buryat Buddhism

Anya Bernstein

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780226072555

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

This book explores religious transformation among a Siberian people known as Buryats across changing political economies. It argues that under conditions of rapid social transformation such as those that accompanied the Russian Revolution, the Cold War, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, certain persons, and especially their bodies became key sites through which Buryats have articulated their relationship with the Russian state and the larger Tibeto-Mongol and Eurasian worlds. Despite the Russian government’s continuing reluctance to see their Buddhist subjects cross borders, Buryats have employed characteristically Buddhist “body politics” to maintain their long-standing mobility, which can both conform to and diplomatically challenge Russian logics of political rule. Through presenting particular case studies of such emblematic bodies— dead bodies of famous monks, temporary bodies of reincarnated lamas, ascetic and celibate bodies of Buddhist monastics, and dismembered bodies of lay disciples given as imaginary gifts to spirits— the book looks at the specific ways in which religion and politics have intersected in this context. This study is intended as a contribution to the growing literature on postsocialism and cross-disciplinary studies of sovereignty that focus on the body as a site of sovereign power, as well as new developments in Buddhist studies where issues related to embodiment have become a central focus of inquiry.