Tibetan literature has an uninterrupted history of at least 1300 years. It includes a vast corpus of indigenous works of great value for the academic study of literary genres, religious praxis, state formation, and the development of canonical systems.  Classical Tibetan is duly famous as the medium for the largest, and most accurate, body of translations of Buddhist texts from India, the majority of which are lost in the original Indian languages. In addition to being essential for the study of Tibetan history, literature, art and religion, classical Tibetan is of scholarly value for the study of South Asian culture and history, Chinese history, and historical linguistics.

Modern Tibetan is spoken by a population of approximately six million people in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, in other Tibetan cultural regions of China, and in the Tibetan diaspora (with speakers concentrated in India and Nepal, but found increasingly in Europe and North America). With the recent opening of Tibet to foreign travel and research, knowledge of modern Tibetan has become essential for students of any aspect of the region. There are numerous (and mutually unintelligible dialects) of modern spoken Tibetan, and the study of these dialects — essential for the study of cultural practices such as pilgrimage — is becoming an area of research at several institutions, including Cal.

Tibetan Faculty

Courses Offered

Elementary Tibetan -- (TIBETAN) 1A
  • Course Format: Five hours of lecture and additional time in the language laboratory per week.
  • Prerequisites: 1A is prerequisite to 1B.
  • Description: A beginning Tibetan class developing listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in modern Tibetan (Lhasa dialect).
Advanced Tibetan Conversation -- (TIBETAN) 100S
  • Course Format: Three hours of lecture per week.
  • Prerequisites: 10B or equivalent, or consent of instructor.
  • Credit option: Course may be repeated for credit as topic varies.
  • Grading option: Must be taken on a passed/not passed basis.
  • Description: This course is designed for advanced students of Tibetan language. Its goal is to provide an opportunity for students to further develop their colloquial Tibetan conversation skills. More sophisticated linguistic forms are used and reinforced while dealing with various socio-cultural topics, with a particular focus on Buddhist-related subjects toward the end of the term. Primary emphasis will be on the Lhasa dialect of Tibetan, though some variant dialects may also be introduced.
Readings in Tibetan Buddhist Texts -- (TIBETAN) C224
  • Course Format: Three hours of seminar per week.
  • Prerequisites: Consent of instructor.
  • Description: This graduate seminar provides an introduction to a broad range of Tibetan Buddhist texts as well as to the methods and resources for their study. Readings for the course will be drawn from a variety of genres and historical periods, including (1) chronicles and histories, (2) biographical literature, (3) doctrinal treatises, (4) canonical texts, (5) ritual manuals, (6) pilgrimage guides, and (7) liturgical texts. The seminar is designed to be of interest to graduate students interested in premodern Tibet from any perspective (literature, religion, art, history, philosophy, law, etc.). Students are required to do all of the readings in the original classical Tibetan. The course will also introduce students to "tools and methods" for the study of Tibetan Buddhist literature, including standard lexical and bibliographic references, digital resources, and secondary literature in modern languages. The content of the course will vary from semester to semester to account for the needs and interests of particular students. Also listed as South Asian C224 and Group in Buddhist Studies C224.