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Looking for the Human: Buddhism and Medicine in Tibet


April 11, 2013
7:30 pm - 9:00 pm
Event Category:


Levinthal Hall, Stanford Humanites Center

Lecture by Janet Gyatso, Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies, Harvard Divinity School.  Co-sponsored by the Ho Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford, the Department of Religious Studies, and the Stanford Humanities Center.  Evans-Wentz Lecturership.

Medicine and Buddhism have had a long history of interaction and mutual influence in Asia. Tibetan medicine preserves a large archive of writing on the theoretical foundations of knowledge of the body and professional medical ethics, along with one as one stunning and highly detailed illustrated encyclopedia.  This material displays the ways the medicine drew upon religious thought and practice but also reached beyond Buddhism for new ways of considering human embodiment on its own terms and in light of everyday realities.

Janet Gyatso is a specialist in Buddhist studies with concentration on Tibetan cultural history. Her books include Being Human in a Buddhist World: An Intellectual History of Medicine in Early Modern Tibet (in press); Apparitions of the Self: The Secret Autobiographies of a Tibetan Visionary; In the Mirror of Memory: Reflections on Mindfulness and Remembrance in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism; and Women of Tibet. Her recent work has focused on the conjunctions and disjunctures between religious and scientific epistemologies in Tibetan medicine in light of cultural and political shifts in the early modern period. She has also been writing on sex and gender in medicine and in Buddhist monasticism, and on the current female ordination movement in Buddhism. Previous topics of her scholarship have included visionary revelation in Buddhism; lineage, memory, and authorship; the philosophy of experience; and autobiographical writing in Tibet. Gyatso was president of the International Association of Tibetan Studies from 2000 to 2006, and co-chair of the Buddhism Section of the American Academy of Religion from 2004 to 2010. She teaches lecture courses and advanced seminars on Buddhist history, ritual, and ideas, and on Tibetan literary practices and religious history.

In both teaching and writing she draws on cultural and literary theory, and endeavors to widen the spectrum of intellectual resources for the understanding of Buddhist and Tibetan history. She is currently a member of a five-year working group on the study and interpretation of Tibetan literature at the American Academy of Religion, and serves on the advisory Scholar’s Committee at the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center.  At Harvard Gyatso is the faculty director of the Harvard Buddhist Studies Forum, and is a member of the Committee on the Study of Religion, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, and Committee on Inner Asian and Altaic Studies. She is involved in a year-long colloquium on Religion and the Body in 2012-13, and is active in the development of a new track for the training of Buddhist lay ministers and leaders in the Master of Divinity program. Gyatso taught at Amherst College before coming to Harvard as the Divinity School’s first Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies.