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Zorin A. Tibetan studies in Russia: a brief historical account // École pratique des hautes études. Section des sciences religieuses. Annuaire. Résumés des conférences et travaux Tome 126. 2017—2018. Paris, 2019. P. 63—70.


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 politia and gradual spread of Russian sovereignty upon some of them caused the necessity of studying and using Tibetan along with Mongolian, Oirat, Buryat languages and also, from the 18th century, studying Tibetan Buddhism as the dominant religion of these people. Huge collections of Tibetan texts and Tibetan arts were gradually gathered in St. Petersburg and some other cities, and the initiator of this process was 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 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 used Tibetan as a major language, along with Sanskrit, Mongolian and, to a lesser extent, Chinese and Japanese. 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. After the culmination of the development of Buddhology and Tibetology in the Soviet Russia from the late 1910s to the first half of the 1930s, both disciplines were almost totally cut off with the political oppressions. The 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.

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