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Accepted Paper:

Dynamism and precarity: reflections on the rise and repression of digital communities in mainland China's Tibetan Buddhist milieu  

Author:

Catherine Hardie (Hong Kong Baptist University)

Paper short abstract:

This presentation discusses the role of the digital in Tibetan Buddhism's spread in mainland China. It focuses on the rise and repression of a trailblazing Sino-Tibetan Buddhist digital community to highlight both the dynamic potentials and existential precarity of Tibetan Buddhism's 'third space.'

Paper long abstract:

In the last two decades, Tibetan Buddhism has established more popular roots in mainland China than ever before. As hundreds of thousands of Han Chinese urbanites have embraced the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, a cross-cultural missionary transmission of consequential dimensions has been set in motion. The rise of the internet and mobile media, and the innovative embrace of related technologies by grassroots networks of Chinese followers and their Tibetan teachers, have played an integral role in this religious efflorescence. As the cyber realm opened up an unprecedented 'third space' for the proliferation of religious life, new ways of individually and collectively doing Tibetan Buddhism came into being. Of particular significance was the way that hitherto loosely organised and geographically-dispersed 'networks' congealed into Buddhist 'communities' centred on study, practice and proselytization.

This presentation zeroes in on the largest and most high profile Dharma community in mainland China's Tibetan Buddhist milieu - a network that has achieved unprecedented group cohesion and missionary impact in the last decade through its trailblazing digital engagement. Drawing on ethnographic research since 2012, it describes the rapid evolution of this community's digital ecology, and the teeming multiplicity of websites, blogs and social media accounts by which it was comprised. The emergence of this third space, and the communicative, expressive and participatory potentials it afforded, dramatically heightened the affective economy of Tibetan Buddhism. Subsequent and ongoing state repression, however, has placed this community between poles of dynamism and precarity.

Panel P064
Ethnography of Sacred Communities: Shifting Horizons of Online Religiosity