IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 16 | Regions |Central Asia

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The International Association for Tibetan Studies [IATS]

The International Association for Tibetan Studies [IATS], the only world-wide organization devoted to furthering scientific study and research on all aspects of Tibetan civilization, was formed almost ten years ago. This year, the IATS is preparing for its eighth international seminar.

By Elliot Sperling

The International Association for Tibetan Studies was formed as one of the fruits of an intimate seminar arranged by Per Kvaerne and Martin Brauen that brought together various young Tibetologists in Zurich in June 1977. Delighted with the success of that seminar and the enthusiasm which it generated, the participants decided to organize a larger conference that would include not only younger students of Tibetan Studies, but the greater international community of Tibetan scholars as a whole.

Michael Aris of St. Antony's College, Oxford undertook to arrange this larger meeting to be held at Oxford University. In July 1979 the largest general gathering of Tibetologists up to that time took place when a week-long seminar was held in Oxford. Assembled for the gathering were scholars from thirteen countries, including very senior as well as relatively young Tibetanists.
Enthused by the vitality and energy displayed at the meeting, and seeing clearly that the field of Tibetan Studies was entering a period of great progress, the participants resolved to establish an organization -- The International Association for Tibetan Studies -- to aid this progress through the periodic convening of seminars and the publication of the proceedings of those meetings.
In recognition of the initiative taken by the young participants in the Zurich seminar of 1977, those gathered at Oxford agreed to recognize that meeting as the first seminar of the IATS and the Oxford meeting as the second. The subsequent history of the IATS has more than fulfilled the hopes and expectations of its earliest members. Since 1979 seminars have been held at intervals of (for the most part) three years: in 1982 the third seminar took place at Columbia University in New York; in 1985 the fourth was held in Munich; in 1989 the fifth was convened at Narita, outside Tokyo; the sixth at Fagernes, Norway; and the seventh in Graz, Austria. With each seminar the number of participants has grown, reflecting the dynamic growth in the field of Tibetan Studies as a whole.
During the 1960s and 1970s in particular, the US Library of Congress sponsored the wholesale reprinting of thousands of Tibetan texts gathered from Tibetan communities in India, Nepal and elsewhere. These texts, which were liberally supplied to subscribing American institutions through the US government's PL-480 programme, formed the essential base for the steady growth of Tibetan Studies that began in the 1970s. As a result Tibetologists are now in a position to study such diverse topics as Tibetan art, politics, history, linguistics, religion, medicine, etc., through the use of this massive body of primary Tibetan source materials previously unavailable outside Tibet. Matters have also been improved because the training of young Tibetologists has included an increasing emphasis on proficiency in spoken Tibetan. This, combined with the greater accessibility to Tibetan regions and communities on both sides of the Himalayas, has fostered the growth of a noticeable group of Tibetologists working in the Social Sciences and other fields who are capable of undertaking research work in the Tibetan vernacular in Tibetan-inhabited areas.
Since the earliest meetings of the IATS the group's informal and broadly international character has stood out like a beacon. The main purpose of the IATS has continued to be the convening of periodic seminars and the publication of the proceedings of these seminars. This purpose has continued to be fulfilled through the efforts of those members who have voluntarily taken upon themselves the task of organizing the seminars which have been held to date. This has placed a heavy burden of responsibility on the seminar organizers, but it has allowed the association to function with a minimal amount of bureaucracy. The association has been organized since 1989 with a president and a board of advisors, all of whom serve for terms encompassing two seminars, and a secretary general, chosen by the board of advisors. Local convenors are designated by the president, on the recommendation of the board of advisors, for the individual conferences.

Eighth IATS seminar

The eighth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies will be held from 25-31 July 1998 at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA, convened by Elliot Sperling. The conference is by invitation only and attendance is expected to be close to 200. During the week of meetings, participants can look forward to a diverse programme in which the latest trends and findings in Tibetology will be discussed in formal and informal settings.
:Dr Elliot Sperling can be reached at e-mail: sperling@indiana.edu

   IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 16 | Regions |Central Asia