Accepted paper:

Perceiving or constructing personhood? Deities and persons in Tibetan Buddhism


Martin Mills (University of Aberdeen)

Paper short abstract:

The anthropology of persons has generally been based either the psychology of person-perception or on the cultural construction of persons. Using Tibetan ethnography on tantric practices, I argue that personhood is certainly interpretively constructed, but by perceiving individuals, and in the manner that a house is constructed, using culturally available supplies, and in stages.

Paper long abstract:

One of the main problems with the anthropology of personhood is the problem of the immediate presence of persons and the manner in which they seem so obvious to the senses. Arguments for the cultural construction of personhood seem to fail to capture this visceral reality, while most psychological theories of person perception tend to emphasise an inferential and evolved universality that simultaneously fails to capture the apparent diversity of the ethnographic record. Using ethnography from Tibetan practices of dakskyed (tantric divine self-visualisations), which combine tantric visualisations of oneself and one's surroundings as a deity emergent from a mantra with the practitioner's surrounding envionment as the celestial abode of the deity. In an analogy with Austin's performative statements in natural language, discussion will particularly focus on the idea of the person as a platform concept: a concept which lacks intrinsic content but acts as a platform for the organisation of other perceived knowledge.

panel P77
Anthropology and the post-enlightenment person