CfP ICAS11 The Ethnography of Tantra: Detextualising and Decolonising the Study of Tantric Traditions

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Call for Papers
July 16, 2019 to July 19, 2019
Subject Fields: 
Anthropology, Asian History / Studies, Religious Studies and Theology

Call for Papers
ICAS 11 (International Convention of Asia Scholars)
16-19 July 2019, Leiden


Please send your name, title, abstract (250 words) and short bio to

by September 10, 2018.


The Ethnography of Tantra:

De-textualising and De-colonising the Study of Tantric Traditions

(in and outside of Asia)


Why is ethnography so rarely engaged with Tantric traditions, and what are the repercussions on the academic knowledge produced on Tantra?


In Indian popular culture, wealthy politicians hire “Tantrics” to secure their success through black magic. In Indian horror movies, the “Tantric” is a recurrent figure. In the Netherlands, a group practicing “Tantric Dance” regularly organizes workshops and summer courses. In Europe and North America, excellent philologists and religion scholars have produced an impressive scholarship on Tantra prevalently based on ancient texts and manuscripts.


Whereas in the Anglo-American world the term Tantra is often associated with spirituality, feminine/feminist energy and alternative constructions of sexuality, for Indian middle classes the connotation of the term Tantric is spooky, ghoulish or even scandalous.


The exorbitant literature on Tantric textual traditions is in striking opposition to the scarcity of ethnographic accounts of Tantric traditions. Apart from a few exceptions, rarely scholars have overcome the challenges imposed by restricted and secretive practices to study contemporary manifestations of Tantra, both in and outside of its “original”, South Asian context.


While we often find interpretations of Tantra from the lenses of orientalism, cultural moralism, commodification and cultural appropriation, it is difficult to gain, through the existing scholarship, a local perspective on what people who define themselves as Tantric actually do and think about the Tantric discourse. Addressing the lack of ethnographic perspectives on Tantra, this panel aims to discuss what Tantric traditions are in practice, facing the difficulty of defining a singular Tantric category to include a variety of scattered, diverse and independent range of non-institutional communities and techniques in a transnational spectrum. 


In the vast assortment of manuals, monographs, and encyclopedia pages on Tantra produced in the last decades, contemporary lineages, living interpreters, and practitioners’ perspectives are seldom – or not at all – included. This panel seeks to give voice to living Tantric traditions, but also to recuperate and reflect upon existing ethnographic material, in order to discuss the positionality of the researchers, the ethical and epistemological challenges of studying esoteric traditions, and the possibility to decolonize Tantric Studies with the instruments offered by ethnographic field-work – in its traditional as well as digital forms.


This panel wishes to bring together scholars who are interested in de-textualising the study of Tantra and give a prominent place to the dialogue between researchers and practitioners, in the utmost respect for the local protocols on sharing and accessing esoteric knowledge. This panel also wishes to offer a venue to discuss the creation of a long-lasting network for the ethnography of Tantrism, the establishment of a research group and the possible solutions to share our research questions, results and conversations with a broader public.


Please note that ICAS 11 has limited financial support available for PhD students and early career scholars. Apply individually submitting the Grant Application form by October 10 (

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