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Zorin A. Tibetan Studies in Russia: A Historical Sketch. Tokyo: The International Institute for Buddhist Studies of The International College for Postgraduate Buddhist Studies, 2020. 278 p., ill. (Studia philologica Buddhica. Monograph Series, XXXVIII.) ISBN 978-4-906267-79-8

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Tibetology is one of the oldest branches of Oriental studies in Russia that used to be closely connected with foreign and inner policy of the Russian State starting from the late 17th century. The neighborhood with various Mongolian politiсal formations and gradual spread of Russian sovereignty upon some of them caused a necessity of studying Tibetan, in addition to the Mongolian, Oirat (Kalmyk) and Buryat languages, and also Tibetan Buddhism as the dominant religion of the Mongolian world. Huge collections of Tibetan texts and various artifacts were gradually gathered in Saint Petersburg (henceforth St. Petersburg) and some other cities, this process having been initiated by Peter the Great, the first Russian emperor.

However, Tibetology mostly remained in the shadow of Mongolian studies. Official courses of Tibetan were first included in the educational programs in the early 20th century only, while there had been a lineage of important scholars of Tibetan (mostly but not exclusively Germans who lived in Russia) who had made a great contribution to European Tibetology. Naturally enough, Tibetan studies in Russia were intertwined with Buddhology, and the St. Petersburg School of Buddhology founded by S. F. Oldenburg and Th. I. Stcherbatsky used Tibetan as a major language, along with Sanskrit and Mongolian (some other languages were also used but to a lesser extent). A great impact was made by a series of expeditions to Central Asia from the 1870s to the middle of the 1920s that had both academic and political goals. The culmination of the development of Buddhology and Tibetology took place in the Soviet Russia during the late 1920s to the middle of the 1930s, but both disciplines were almost totally cut off with the Stalinist political oppressions in 1937. Their gradual revival started after World War 2 in Leningrad / St. Petersburg, Moscow and Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryatia. The process accelerated after the end of the Soviet era when any ideological pressure on religious studies was removed. Elista, the capital of Kalmykia, joined the list of major centers of Russian Tibetology in the 1990s.

Although no special monograph on the history of Russian Tibetology was ever published, its numerous aspects were illuminated in quite a many papers and monographs, mostly by the Russian authors. Those written in Russian remain largely unknown to foreign colleagues. The general surveys of the history of Tibetology in St. Petersburg and Buryatia were written by Andrey Vostrikov (VOSTRIKOV 1935), Margarita Vorobyova-Desyatovskaya and Lev Savitsky (VOROBYOVA-DESYATOVSKAYA, SAVITSKY 1972; 1981); Andrey Bazarov and Nikolay Tsyrempilov (BAZAROV, TSYREMPILOV 2012; 2012b), Sergey Lepekhov (LEPEKHOV 2011). The monographs by Alexander Andreyev (ANDREYEV 2006) and Tatyana Ermakova (ERMAKOVA 1998) contain a lot of valuable information on historical contacts between Russia and Tibet and the development of Buddhist and Tibetan studies in Russia from the 19th century to the 1930s. Papers and books dedicated to various scholars and institutions written by Hartmut Walravens, Vladimir Uspensky, Helen Ostrovskaya, Tatyana Ermakova, Margarita Kozhevnikova, Elena Khamaganova, Aleksandr Dyuldenko, Aleksey Vigasin, etc. are of great importance, too.

I have tried to present, on the basis of these works as well as my own researches, a coherent description of the history of Tibetan studies in Russia. Without doubt, another author could emphasize some other points and arrange the facts and names differently. Nevertheless, I hope my vision will provide the foreign reader with an understanding of the main processes that instigated or obstructed achievements of Tibetology in the Russian Empire, Soviet Union and Russian Federation.

Moreover, I have tried to name the majority of principal works written in Russia in various languages (Latin, German, Russian, French, English) on Tibet, its language, religion, history, culture, etc. for almost three centuries by people of various ethnical backgrounds. I hope my text can be used as a guide to Tibetological literature produced in our country. The parts of the last chapter that concern the 21st century contain a very simple narrative, being rather an enumeration of contemporary scholars and titles of their most important contributions. Their more critical and objective analysis has to be undertaken when the current stage is over. Nobody knows when and how it happens, it will certainly depend on the flow of Russian history which is rather unpredictable.

Whatever the future may bring, Tibetan culture is inseparable from Tibeto-Mongolian Buddhism, which is officially recognized as one of the traditional religions of the Russian Federation, and its studies can hardly lose significance for the successful development of our multinational society. The rich academic collections will also continue to attract interest of scholars and educated people. These two circumstances make me moderately optimistic about the fourth century of Tibetan studies in the country that was always a place where Asia and Europe, or vice versa, the classical twain of Old World, met.


Front matter


Buddhism in Russia
history of Oriental studies
history of Russia

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