China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This panel explores processes of envisioning in Tibetan cultural areas. Although scholars have often thought of visual perception as a passive, receptive experience, this panel explores vision as actively constituting processes of artistic production, ritual performance, meditative imagination, and textual interpretation. If we understand perception as bridging the external world of material objects and the internal world of language, culture, and imagination, we recognize vision as an active and malleable site where religious traditions can locate and theorize critical transformative processes. Demonstrating the importance of such visual processes across Tibetan traditions, this panel assembles four scholars who analyze diverse sources from the 9th–20th centuries, including ritual manuals, illustrated commentaries, painted ritual images, and pilgrimage diaries. Each of these papers reconstructs a specific context in which visual representations, both material and imagined, were generated and interpreted. Revealing the diverse ways in which visual culture can be engaged, these papers together demonstrate the active role of envisioned images as mediators between the material and immaterial, real and imagined, external and internal, and present and past. The diversity of subjects and practices addressed in these papers serves the panel’s singular goal of reinventing scholarly approaches to the visual culture of religion. Each paper isolates a critical way of thinking about active processes of envisioning and expands definitions of vision and visualization beyond ordinary, uncritical categories. The panel thus highlights new directions in the study of Tibetan visual culture and demonstrates the benefits of visually informed approaches.