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The Precious Relics of Tibet: Social values and the preservation of religious artifacts in Lhasa and Copenhagen

Activity: Talk or presentation typesLecture and oral contribution

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Cameron David Warner - Lecturer

History is rife with happenstance constellations of people and events whose significance only becomes apparent with time. Two examples will serve to demonstrate how ethnographic artifacts can be used to divine the social values of actors. Between 1948-1953, Prince Peter of Greece and Denmark participated in the Third Danish Expedition to Central Asia. Originally, it was his intention to travel to Tibet, but the exigencies of history landed him in Kalimpong, as the People’s Liberation Army entered Central Tibet before he could. Working with the aristocrats coming over the border, Prince Peter assembled an impressive collection of Buddhist manuscripts and artifacts for the National Library and National Museum in Copenhagen, of which some items might be unique. In the 2000s, the government of the Tibetan Autonomous Region embarked upon an ambitious and controversial renovation of the Rasa Trulnang (Jokhang) Temple in Lhasa. The stated intention of the renovation was the preservation of Tibetan “Precious Relics,” irreplaceable examples of tangible cultural heritage. Yet not only did the renovation apparently destroy much of the original temple, it also limited the ability of devotees to interact somatically and sensorily with it. The impulse to collect, preserve, display, but also to hinder access can be read to indicate the social values of anthropologists, source communities, and state-sponsored bureaucratic managers of religious sites and religious artifacts. In this way, the study of materiality can push the present value debate in ethnographic theory in new directions.
2 Feb 2017

External organisation

NameSociété Française d'Études du Monde Tibétain


  • tibet, social values, artifacts, Prince Peter, materiality

ID: 116513062