SHANTI - Sciences, Humanities, and Arts Network of Technological Initiatives

Kurtis R. Schaeffer / Profile

Associate Professor | Faculty

Home Page:

I am Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies. I study the cultural history of Tibet. My current research areas include the history of the Dalai Lamas and the tradition of Tibetan biographical writing.

Current Focus

Mapping the Dalai Lamas

The Dalai Lamas are arguably the most important leaders of Tibetan Buddhism, so much so that is not possible to understand Tibetan history since 1600 without understanding the institution of the Dalai Lamas. “Mapping the Dalai Lamas” intends to integrate digital texts of classical Tibetan-language biographies with digital animated maps, timelines, and images to present significant events in the lives of the Dalai Lamas as well as to reveal hitherto unnoticed connections between biographical event, geographic location, social and historical context, and literary and rhetorical expression. The project begins with the famous autobiography of the Fifth Dalai lama (1617-1682), who is in great part responsible for the shape of early modern Tibetan culture.

This project is carried out under the auspices of the Insitute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) at the University of Virginia


My research area is the history of religions in Tibet, India, Nepal, and China, with a focus on the Tibetan cultural regions of Asia. For centuries Tibetan Buddhism was the elite religion of a vast swath of Asia. Its sphere of influence extended from the southern borderlands of the Himalayas to the Inner Asian steppes of Siberia, and from Beijing in eastern China to the Volga River in west-central Russia. To study Tibetan Buddhism is thus to study one of the major cultural, intellectual, and institutional forces in Asia. My primary data consists of classical Tibetan literature dating from the eighth through the nineteenth centuries, classical Sanskrit literature dating from the first century BCE through the twelfth century CE, and vernacular literatures of medieval India and Nepal. Over the past decade I have made contributions to several areas of inquiry within the history of Tibetan culture, including Indo-Tibetan poetry; the cultural history of saints in Tibet; the origins and development of Tibetan-language printing throughout Asia; the development of classical learning in Tibetan cultural regions; the history of women in Tibet, and the rise of theocratic institutions in Tibet. All of these areas are represented in my published work.

Scholarly Disciplines
Humanities (1), Religious Studies (5)
General Interests
Humanities (3), Literature (6), Religion (3), Tibet (3)
Time Periods of Interest
5th Century BCE to 20th Century CE (1)
Places of Interest
China (4), India (5), Mongolia (1), Nepal (4), Tibet (8)
Technologies of Interest
3D (3), Books (2), GIS (8), Printing (1), XML (10), digital archives (6)


My current work falls within two broad subject areas: 1) the history of the Dalai Lamas of Tibet; 2) the history of Tibetan biography. Methodologically, these two projects they extend my research in the history of religions in two directions: A) The use of databases and geographic information systems (GIS) in an effort to collect, organize, and interpret large bodies of complex literary material with a degree of temporal and spatial specificity that is difficult to achieve through traditional humanistic methods; B) The employment of quantitative methods of data collection and analysis of both literature itself and data collected from literary sources to improve the cogency of historical claims.


Books The Culture of the Book in Tibet. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

An Early Tibetan Catalogue of Buddhist Literature: The Bstan pa rgyas pa nyi ma’i ‘od zer of Bcom ldan ral gri. Kurtis R. Schaeffer and Leonard W. J. van der Kuijp. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Oriental Series, 2009. HOS64.

Dreaming the Great Brahmin: Tibetan Traditions of a Buddhist Poet Saint. Oxford University Press. 2005.

Himalayan Hermitess: The Life of a Tibetan Buddhist Nun. Oxford University Press. 2004.

Edited Books Power, Politics and the Reinvention of Tradition in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Tibet: Proceedings of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Xth Seminar, Oxford University, 2003. Kurtis R. Schaeffer and Bryan J. Cuevas, Editors. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2006.

Among Tibetan Texts: Essays on Tibetan Religion, Literature, and History by E. Gene Smith. Edited with an introduction by Kurtis R. Schaeffer. Wisdom Publications, Boston. (2001). In the Studies in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism Series, a refereed series.

Articles *“Crystal Orbs and Arcane Treasuries: Tibetan Anthologies of Buddhist Tantric Songs from the Tradition of Pha Dam pa sangs rgyas.” Acta Orientalia (Norway) 68 (2007): 5-73.

“Dying Like Milarepa: Death Accounts in a Tibetan Hagiographic Tradition. The Buddhist Dead: Practices, Discourses, Representations. Bryan J. Cuevas and Jaqueline I. Stone, Eds. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007. Kuroda Studies in East Asian Buddhism No. 20. pp. 208-233.

“Death, Prognosis, and the Physician’s Reputation in Tibet.” Heroes and Saints: The Moment of Death in Cross-cultural Perspectives. Phyllis Granoff and Koichi Shinohara, Eds. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007. pp. 159-172.

“Ritual, Festival, and Authority under the Fifth Dalai Lama.” In Power, Politics and the Reinvention of Tradition in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Tibet: Proceedings of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Xth Seminar, Oxford University, 2003. Kurtis R. Schaeffer and Bryan J. Cuevas, Editors. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2006. pp. 187-202.

*“Future Directions in Modern Tibetan Studies: Religion/History.” The CSSR (Council of Societies for the Study of Religion) Bulletin 35/1 (2006): 17-19.

“The Autobiography of a Medieval Tibetan Hermitess.” In Women in Tibet: Past and Present. Janet Gyatso and Hanna Havnevik, Eds. Columbia University Press, New York. 2005.

“The Fifth Dalai Lama.” In The Dalai Lamas: A Visual History. Martin Brauen, Ed. Chicago, Serindia Publications. 2005. pp. 64-91.

“A Letter to Editors of the Buddhist Canon in 14th Century Tibet.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 124/2 (2004): 1-17.

“Professing Buddhism in Alabama.” The CSSR (Council of Societies for the Study of Religion) Bulletin 33/2 (2004): 43-46.

“Textual Scholarship, Medical Tradition, and Mahayana Buddhist Ideals in Tibet.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 31/5-6 (2003): 621-641.

“The Attainment of Immortality: From Nathas in India to Buddhists in Tibet.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 30/6 (2003). pp. 515-533.

“The Religious Career of Vairocanavajra—A Twelfth-Century Indian Buddhist Master from Daksina Kosala.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 28/4 (2000). pp. 361-384.

“Printing the Words of the Master: Tibetan Editorial Practice in the Collected Works of ‘Jam dbyangs bzhad pa’i rdo rje I (1648-1721).” Acta Orientalia 60 (1999). pp. 159-177.




  • Associate Professor
  • IATH Fellow 2007-2009
  • Book Review Editor, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 2006-2010
  • SHANTI Steering Committee 2008-Present


  • Ph.D. Harvard University
  • M.A. University of Washington


  • American Academy of Religion
  • Association for Asian Studies
  • Internation Association for Tibetan Studies


Languages: Tibetan, Sanskrit, Nepali Technologies: XML, GIS

Mailing Address

University of Virginia Department of Religious Studies

Box 400126







Direct Contact

Office Phone: 434-923-4093

View Relationships