En Fr



  • Centre d'Etudes Himalayennes
    UPR 299 - CNRS
  • Campus Condorcet
  • 2, cours des Humanités
  • 93322 Aubervilliers Cedex
  • France
  • Tel : 01 88 12 11 03
  • himalaya[at]
  • Venir nous voir
  • Intranet

Accueil > Membres > Permanents

SIHLÉ Nicolas

CNRS researcher

Contact : nicolas.sihle [at]


Anthropologist (CNRS section 38)

Research Topics

A social anthropologist by training (PhD Paris-Nanterre University 2001), Nicolas Sihlé first taught at the Department of anthropology at the University of Virginia (USA) from 2002 to 2010, before joining the Centre for Himalayan Studies. He is a specialist of Tibetan society and religion, and of Buddhist societies more generally. His work focuses in particular on religious specialists called tantrists (ngakpa), key figures of the non-monastic side of Tibetan Buddhism, generally characterized by their practice of tantric rituals involving occasionally strong ritual power and even ritual violence, as in violent exorcisms. He has carried out extended fieldwork in the Mustang district (northern Nepal) as well as in the Repkong district in northeast Tibet (Amdo/Qinghai), but also shorter periods of research in Ladakh (northern India), Dolpo (NW Nepal), Nyemo (central Tibet), and Bhutan.

His first book, based on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in culturally Tibetan areas in the north of Nepal, appeared in 2013, under the title Rituels bouddhiques de pouvoir et de violence : La figure du tantriste tibétain [Buddhist rituals of power and violence : The figure of the Tibetan tantrist]. It analyzed the striking features of this type of Buddhist specialist : a highly ritualistic orientation (with a strong magical component) ; the practice of tantric rituals involving strong ritual power and even ritual violence (which shows here, comparatively speaking, quite a paradoxical centrality in a Buddhist context) ; the association between ritual legitimacy and power on the one hand and hereditary lineage on the other ; and the relative absence of references to renunciation. The analysis of the monk vs. tantrist duality is more broadly relevant for thinking about religious fields that are organized around values such as ritual power/violence vs. ritual/ethical purity. This work has also involved thinking about written texts (such as a local corpus of manual rituals) as objects in need of a fully ethnographic analysis that takes into account their materiality, their partaking in a social and political economy, but also their particular status, at the juncture between a local universe of meanings and practices and a wider (e.g., Buddhist or Tibetan) cultural world.

His current major research project focuses on the large communities of Buddhist and Bönpo tantrists of the Repkong district in northeast Tibet (Chinese Qinghai province), where is has been conducting fieldwork since 2003. The focus is here (i) on very large-scale collective rituals and their place, among others, in the constitution of supra-local collectivities and the negotiation of identities, as well as (ii) on the vicissitudes of the religious sphere, and in particular of ritual, in the context of the transformations of the moral, intellectual, social and political universe of post-Mao Amdo.

These projects all contribute to a comparative anthropology of Buddhism—a major emphasis in his research activity. He is thus involved for instance in the coordination of a network of scholars (with several years of workshops and seminars) engaging in the comparative anthropology of Buddhism. In this context, he has co-edited a special issue on the Buddhist gift (Religion Compass 2015).

He is also the main editor of the collective research blog The Himalayas and Beyond (


Comparative anthropology of Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; tantric Buddhism ; ritual ; religious specialists ; anthropology of religion ; religious field ; gift ; ritual violence ; ritual text ; Tibet ; Himalayas ; Baragaon/Mustang ; Dolpo ; Nyemo ; Amdo ; Repkong

Video (in French) : Manger ensemble dans des contextes bouddhiques : diversité des logiques (Eating together in Buddhist contexts : the diversity of logics)

List of publications in HAL
Selective bibliography

2013, Rituels bouddhistes de pouvoir et de violence. La figure du tantriste tibétain. Brepols, 405 p.

2013, "Money, butter and religion : Remarks on participation in the large-scale collective rituals of the Repkong tantrists", in Y. Dhondup, G. Samuel, U. Pagel (eds.), Unity and Diversity : Monastic and Non-monastic Traditions in Amdo, Brill.

2013. Book review of "Buddhist Fury : Religion and Violence in Southern Thailand", Michael K. Jerryson, in Religion 43(3), p. 451-455.

2013. Book review of "Bonds of the Dead : Temples, Burial, and the Transformation of Contemporary Japanese Buddhism", Mark Rowe, in Religion 43(2), p. 284-287. Accessible online (since 9/10/2012) :

2011-2013 The Himalayas and Beyond [Carnet de recherche collectif]. Concepteur du carnet, éditeur en chef, et 31 billets. Disponibles sur : [consulté le 4 nov. 2013]. ISSN : 2257-5472.

2010. "Tendzin, moine tibétain", in Être moine. A. Herrou, D. Iogna-Prat and A. Poujeau (eds.), Special edition No. 3, Histoire et religions, p. 64.

2010. Compte rendu de The Navel of the Demoness : Tibetan Buddhism and Civil Religion in Highland Nepal, de Charles Ramble, in Religion 40(3), pp. 219-221.

2009, "Written Texts at the Juncture of the Local and the Global : Some Anthropological Considerations on a Local Corpus of Tantric Ritual Manuals (Lower Mustang, Nepal)", in José Cabezón (éd.), Tibetan Ritual, New York, Oxford University Press, p. 35-52.

2009, "The Ala and Ngakpa Priestly Traditions of Nyemo (Central Tibet) : Hybridity and Hierarchy", in Sarah Jacoby, Antonio Terrone (eds.), Buddhism Beyond the Monastery, Leiden, Brill, p. 145-162.

2006, "Buddhism in Tibet and Nepal : Vicissitudes of Traditions of Power and Merit", in Stephen Berkwitz (ed.), Buddhism in World Cultures : Comparative Perspectives, Santa Barbara, California, ABC-CLIO, p. 245-284.

2002, "Lhachö [Lha mchod] and Hrinän [Sri gnon] : The Structure and Diachrony of a Pair of Rituals (Baragaon, Northern Nepal)", in H. Blezer (éd.), Religion and Secular Culture in Tibet : Tibetan Studies II, Leiden, Brill, Brill’s Tibetan Studies Library, vol. 2/2, p. 185-206.