Faculty and Staff at Columbia University


Robert Barnett

Robert Barnett
Director, Modern Tibetan Studies Program, and Assistant Professor. (BA, MA, Ph.D. Cambridge). Professor Barnett founded and directs the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia, the first Western teaching program in this field. His most recent books are Tibetan Modernities: Notes from the Field, with Ronald Schwartz (Brill, 2008); and Lhasa: Streets with Memories (Columbia University Press, 2006). His articles include studies of modern Tibetan history, post-1950 leaders in Tibet, Tibetan cinema and TV, women and politics in Tibet, and contemporary exorcism rituals. He teaches courses on Tibetan film and television, contemporary culture, history, oral history, and other subjects. From 2000 to 2006 he ran the annual summer program for foreign students at Tibet University in Lhasa and taught there. He is a frequent commentator on Tibet and nationality issues in China for the BBC, CNN, NPR, CBS, The New York Times, the Washington Post, and other media outlets. He runs a number of educational projects in Tibet, including training programs in ecotourism and conservation.

Before joining Columbia in 1998, Professor Barnett worked as a researcher and journalist based in the United Kingdom, specializing in Tibetan issues for the BBC, the South China Morning Post, VOA, and other media outlets. In the 1980s he founded and ran an independent London-based research organization covering events in Tibet, the Tibet Information Network.

Chopathar Wayemache

Chopathar Wayemache
Tibetan Bibliographic Assistant. (CNI graduate). Chopathar Wayemache was born in Dpa'-ris (Chinese: Tianzhu Xian). He attended the Northwest Nationalities Institute in Lanzhou, majoring in political science, and from 1972-1976 he studied music in the Arts Department of the Central Nationalities Institute in Beijing. After graduating, Chopathar worked as a composer for the Hainan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture Song and Dance Ensemble, based in Chab-cha (Ch. Gonghe) in Qinghai Province. Starting in 1985, he studied for two years at the Shanghai Music Conservatory. He is famous for his composition Mtsho Sngon-po, "Lake Kokonor," and the "Hor Gling g.yul gyed" portion of the contemporary musical opera Gesar. He is the author of articles and essays on Tibetan musical arts, and a compilation of Chinese documents on the history of Tibet.

Lauran Hartley

Lauran Hartley
Tibetan Studies Librarian, C.V. Starr East Asian Library. (Indiana PhD). Dr. Hartley has taught courses on Tibetan literature and religion at Indiana University and Rutgers, as well as at Columbia University. She is co-editor of the book Modern Tibetan Literature and Social Change (Duke University Press, 2008), and has published several articles on Tibetan intellectual history as well as translations of modern Tibetan literature, including Six Stars with a Crooked Neck (Bod kyi dus bab 2001). She also serves as the Inner Asian Book Review Editor for the Journal of Asian Studies, and on the editorial board of the series "Studies in Modern Tibetan Culture" at Rowman and Littlefield.

David R Kittay

David R Kittay
Adjunct Assistant Professor. (Boston JD, Columbia PhD). Dr. Kittay specializes in teaching courses on Buddhism and on Eastern and Western philosophy, most recently, “Technology, Religion, Future” and “Interpreting Buddhist Yoga.” He is the translator of The Vajra Rosary Tantra, Alaṃkakalaśa’s Commentary on the Vajra Rosary Tantra, and, with Professor Lozang Jamspal, Pha Dampa Sangs rgyas's One Hundred Spiritual Instructions to the Dingri People, the Elucidation of the Intention Tantra, and The Compendium of Dharma Sūtra (a text mainly about emptiness as a conventional phenomenon), along with other books and articles about Buddhism, religion, and law. He is the President of the Tibetan Classics Translators Guild of New York. He also writes and lectures on the subject of compassionate lawyering, and has served as a trial and civil rights lawyer, federal bankruptcy trustee and a receiver for the Securities Exchange Commission.

Dr. Kittay is currently director of the Clemente Course for the Humanities, teaching humanities to underprivileged people in Harlem.

Sonam Tsering

Sonam Tsering
Lecturer, Modern Tibetan language. (SOAS BA). Sonam Tsering has taught Tibetan at SOAS, part of the University of London, in London; at the Institut National des Langues et Cultures Orientales (INALCO) in Paris; at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris, and most recently at the University of Michigan. He also has run remote-teaching courses for students at Yale and Ohio State University via live video technology, and ran the Tibetan Study Abroad Program at the University of Michigan, taking under-graduate students to Northern India.

Originally from Rebgong (Qinghai, PRC), Sonam later lived in the Tibetan community in exile in India, where he co-founded and edited the independent Tibetan-language newspaper, Bod kyi dus bab ("Tibet Times"). In 1998, Sonam went to England, at the invitation of Professor Robert Barnett, to work and study, and obtained his BA in Social Anthropology from SOAS, University of London, in 2005.

Robert AF Thurman

Robert AF Thurman
Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Studies. (Harvard PhD) Dr. Thurman holds the first endowed chair in Buddhist Studies in the West, the Jey Tsong Khapa Chair in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies. After education at Philips Exeter and Harvard, he studied Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism for almost thirty years as a personal student of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He has written both scholarly and popular books, and has lectured widely all over the world. His special interest is the exploration of the Indo-Tibetan philosophical and psychological traditions, with a view to their relevance to parallel currents of contemporary thought and science.

Dr. Thurman is the translator of key Sanskrit and Tibetan works, such as The Holy Teaching of Vimalakīrti (Pennsylvannia State University Press, 1967), The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Random House, 1993), The Central Philosophy of Tibet (Princeton Univ. Pr., 1976), The Brilliant Illumination of the Lamp (AIBS/Tibet House, 2011), as well as author of books such as Inner Revolution, Wisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of Tibet, Infinite Life, Jewel Tree of Tibet, Anger, and Why the Dalai Lama Matters.

At the request of the Dalai Lama, Thurman co-founded Tibet House US with Richard Gere and Philip Glass, among others, dedicated to the preservation and renaissance of Tibetan civilization. He recently founded the Menla Mountain Retreat Center in the Catskill Mountains to advance the healing arts and life sciences of the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist medicine tradition.

Gray Tuttle

Gray Tuttle
Leila Hadley Luce Associate Professor of Modern Tibetan Studies. (Harvard PhD) Dr. Tuttle studies the history of twentieth century Sino-Tibetan relations as well as Tibet’s relations with the China-based Manchu Qing Empire. The role of Tibetan Buddhism in these historical relations is central to all his research. In his Tibetan Buddhists in the Making of Modern China (Columbia University Press, 2005), he examines the failure of nationalism and race-based ideology to maintain the Tibetan territory of the former Qing empire as integral to the Chinese nation-state. Instead, he argues, a new sense of pan-Asian Buddhism was critical to Chinese efforts to hold onto Tibetan regions (one quarter of China’s current territory).

His current research project, "Amdo Tibet, Middle Ground between Lhasa and Beijing (1578-1865)," is a historical analysis of the economic and cultural relations between China and Tibet in the early modern periods (16th-19th centuries) when the intellectual and economic centers of Tibet shifted to the east, to Amdo—a Tibetan cultural region the size of France in northwestern China. Deploying Richard White's concept of the "Middle Ground" in the context of two mature civilizations—Tibetan and Chinese—encountering one another, this book will examine how this contact led to three dramatic areas of growth that defined early modern Tibet: 1) the advent of mass monastic education, 2) the bureaucratization of reincarnate lamas' charisma and 3) the development of modern conceptions of geography that reshaped the way Tibet was imagined. Other edited publications include Mapping the Modern in Tibet (International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies GmbH. Königswinter, 2011), The Tibetan History Reader (Gray Tuttle and Kurtis R. Schaeffer, eds., Columbia University Press, 2013), Sources of Tibetan Tradition (Kurtis R. Schaeffer, Matthew T. Kapstein, and Gray Tuttle, eds., Columbia University Press, 2013), and "Wutai Shan and Qing Culture" (Gray Tuttle and Johan Elverskog, eds., Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies vol. 6 (Special Issue), Dec. 2011).

Thomas F Yarnall

Thomas F Yarnall
Associate Research Scholar, and Adjunct Assistant Professor. (Columbia PhD).