Author Biography

Annabella Pitkin (Ph.D. Columbia University, 2009) is Assistant Professor of East Asian Religions at Lehigh University. Her research explores early modern and contemporary Tibetan Buddhist yogic narratives; transregional identities in Asia; and modernity and social change in the Himalayan region and China.


This paper approaches the dynamics of secularization and post-secularism among Tibetan Buddhists through the lens of ‘miracle’ narratives, both oral and textual, arguing that such narratives function as a lightening-rod for complexities surrounding secularism and its religious doubles. Tibetan Buddhist genres of historical and biographical writing brim with accounts of extraordinary yogic abilities (Skt. siddhi, Tib. dngos grub and Skt. ṛddhi, Tib. rdzu ‘phrul)), ranging from clairvoyance to flight. Combining interviews with Tibetan Buddhist scholars and practitioners, oral commentaries, and textual analysis, I engage here with analyses of yogic power articulated by three contemporary, primarily diaspora-based Tibetan Buddhist scholar-practitioners. I argue that their analyses of yogic power offer approaches to negotiating secularism, modernity, and religious commitment using Tibetan Buddhist philosophical tools, in ways that resonate with contemporary debates about processes of secularism in Asia and elsewhere.


This research received generous support from a Social Science Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship for Transregional Research: Inter-Asian Contexts and Connections. Kalsang Wangdu provided vital research assistance and fruitful discussion of the topic. I gratefully thank the Drikung Kagyu scholars who shared their expertise with me, particularly H.H. Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche and the Director and staff of the Drikung Kagyu Institute in Dehradun, India. I especially thank those Drikung scholars with whose philosophical perspectives and interpretations I engage here: Dordzin Rinpoche, Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen, and Karma Rinchen. Their erudition, generosity, and creativity shapes the inquiry of this paper. Needless to say, all errors here are my own.

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