Celebratory event on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Société Française d’Études du Monde Tibétain (SFEMT), 23 September 2022 at the Maison de l’Asie in Paris.
Written by Chandra Ehm, member of OHTS project and a co-organiser of the SFEMT event
This gathering to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the French Society for Tibetan Studies was exceptional in its format. The outlook of this event was to remember, learn, discuss, and explore Tibetan studies in France throughout the 20th century. The conference not only succeeded in bringing together students, early career researchers, faculty, and emeritus researchers around their passion for Tibetan cultures and religions, but also in reuniting the different disciplines within Tibetan studies. It was a joyful forum of learning, exchange, and inspiration which the speakers and participants alike agreed should happen more frequently.
The SFEMT’s president, Françoise Robin, introduced the evening, followed by brief introductory remarks, from among others, the president of the INALCO (Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales) Jean-François Huchet, the president of the East Asian Civilizations Research Centre, Sylvie Hureau, as well as by the director of the CNRS (Centre national de la rechere scientifique)-Centre for Himalayan Studies, Nicolas Sihlé.
Before launching into round table discussion, Samuel Thévoz gave a short yet rich presentation, mapping out the beginnings of Tibetan studies in France. He retraced the developments of the field, from its beginnings in philological and textual research, spearheaded by Jaques Bacot and Marcelle Lalou, to what we understand as modern Tibetan studies in France today.
The roundtable conversation was undoubtedly the heart of this Parisian soirée, hosted in the grand salon of the Maison de L’Asie, just a stone-throw away from the Eiffel tower. Each of the invited speakers contributed in a very unique way to the interactive discussion. The conversation with Anne-Marie Blondeau, Katia Buffetrille, Pascale Dollfus, Amy Heller, Samten Karmay, Fernand Meyer, Françoise Pommaret, Charles Ramble, Heather Stoddard, was eloquently moderated by Nicola Schneider. She guided the speakers along six key themes.
The first topic addressed was the learning process of the Tibetan language. Both Madame Blondeau’s and Fernand Mayer’s rather personal accounts vividly described their experiences of studying Tibetan in the early days, seemingly nothing like what we know today. Tibetan was read as though it was Latin and there were no dictionaries or study materials.
The second question focused on how they started their careers and what obstacles there were, Charles Ramble and Amy Heller took up the mantle here. Both reflected on how there was no field of Tibetan studies as we know it today when they started their careers. Disciplines such as ethnography, philology, history, and art history would not communicate between themselves. The ultimate focus lay on textual study, rather than on Tibetan social history, materiality, and other frames of Tibetan cultures.
The third theme, developments within the field, was taken on by Katia Buffetrille, Pascale Dollfuss, and Françoise Pommaret. They unanimously agreed that both the field and work within the field had undergone a metamorphosis. They illustrated that we had not only changed century, but that digital access had changed everything in the field.
The fourth and fifth themes on Tibetan studies as a field and its future outlook highlighted from further perspectives the developments Tibetan studies have gone through since its beginnings.
The roundtable found its end in each speaker sharing her or his most notable personal memory from their long careers in Tibetan studies. (For those who speak French this event has been recorded and can be watched here in its entirety)
A French-Tibetan buffet and a convivial aperó rounded off the evening. During this informal part of the event, many of the speakers and guests expressed to the organisers what a rare opportunity this event presented to meet colleagues from all career stages and colleagues from all disciplines in Tibetan studies.