Anya Bernstein, assistant professor of anthropology and Asian languages and cultures and postdoctoral fellow, Michigan Society of Fellows, U-M. Sponsors: CREES, CCS.
This talk explores religious politics and assertions of cultural sovereignty among a Siberian people known as Buryats. Bernstein argues that under conditions of rapid social transformations, such as those that accompanied the dissolution of the Soviet Union, certain bodies became key political symbols through which Buryats have articulated their relationship with the Russian state and the larger Tibeto-Mongol and Eurasian worlds. Bernstein suggests that in order to maintain their long-standing mobility—both across the physical space and through time, as well as across the multiple sites of belonging—Buryats have developed and continue employing a characteristically Buddhist “body politics,” which can both conform to and diplomatically challenge Russian logics of political rule. Through presenting particular case studies of such emblematic bodies: the dead bodies of famous monks, the temporary bodies of reincarnated lamas, and the bodies of Russian leaders, from emperors to President Medvedev, Bernstein looks at how their incarnations and reincarnations adroitly captured the parallel refashionings of secular space experienced by all Buryats. This talk draws on the growing literature on socialist and postsocialist body politics, cross-disciplinary studies of sovereignty that focus on the body as a site of sovereign power, as well as issues in Buddhist studies related to the body and embodiment.