Fernanda Pirie, Associate Professor of Socio-Legal Studies, is working with Charles Manson to investigate the development of laws and legal ideology in Tibet between the eleventh and seventeenth centuries.

Project details

The relationship between law and religion is one of the great themes of historical legal scholarship, yet the legal realm of Tibet’s theocracy has barely been considered from a socio-historic perspective. The researchers on this project are tracing the different strands that emerged in Tibetan legal thought during one of its formative periods, culminating in the rise of the Dalai Lamas’ Ganden Podrang government.

The members of the project are examining texts, ideas, and ideologies considered. They are tracing the different sources and strands of legal thought, exploring tensions between them and attempts by Tibetan writers, many of whom were religious scholars, to reconcile religious, ethical, and jurisprudential ideals. The approach is socio-historical, involving close examination of textual sources, but considering legal, ethical, and religious ideas in their social and political contexts and bringing them into comparison with scholarship on Islamic, Indic, Christian, and Chinese legal traditions.

Socio-historical and anthropological insights are thus being brought to bear on a field dominated by textual scholarship. A workshop, to be held in early 2017, will bring together historians of Tibet and specialists on other legal traditions, with a view to disseminating and discussing the project’s findings and laying the ground for further collaborative research.

As well as publications on Tibet’s legal tradition, this project will establish a web-based resource, which will incorporate copies, summaries, translations, and indexes of the relevant documents, currently scattered throughout different archives and collections.


  • F Pirie, 'Rules, Proverbs, and Persuasion: Legalism and Rhetoric in Tibet' in Paul Dresch and Judith Scheele (eds), Legalism: Rules and Categories (OUP 2015)
  • F Pirie, 'Community, Justice, and Legalism: Elusive Concepts in Tibet' in Fernanda Pirie and Judith Scheele (eds), Legalism: Community and Justice (OUP 2014)
  • F Pirie, 'Oaths and Ordeals in Tibetan Law' in D. Schuh (ed), Secular Law and Order in the Tibetan Highland (International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies 2015)
  • F Pirie, 'State, Law, and Morality in Traditional Tibet' in J. Bischoff & S. Mullard (ed), Social Regulation: Case Studies from Tibetan History (Brill 2016)