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Abstract

A summer ago I returned to India for two months to look for new fieldsites and also to attend a series of ceremonies being conducted by the Dalai Lama in a previously closed section of the Greater Himalayas, the tiny Tibetan kingdom of Spiti. Nestled in a steep river valley up against the Chinese border, Spiti is known to Tibetologists from the earliest historical records as an ancient Tibetan Buddhist kingdom, located hundreds of miles to the west of the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. With the drawing of the territorial borders between China and India after the Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1960, Spiti was excluded from the Chinese controlled plateau by a mere five miles. It is now part of the Indian perimeter of defense against the Chinese, and there is a small military outpost in the valley- Until last summer, the valley was closed to all visitors

Visiting the kingdom of Spiti was an exciting prospect. My research over the past fifteen years on Tibetan Buddhist legal systems drew me to Spiti as a possible site for on-the-ground examination of the legal procedures, fora, and rules I had encountered only as detailed historical reconstructions among the Tibetans. Here was the possibility of a living community that had been using the Tibetan Buddhist legal system up to the present day, largely unimpeded by the Indian government that had inherited it. At the same time, I was also reading widely on the topic of secularity in both law and religion, and I was anxious to return to a society considered nonsecular in order to try out some preliminary conjectures.

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