The Project

As the Tibetan empire collapsed in the ninth and tenth centuries ad, new ideas emerged concerning the nature of Tibetan law and its relationship with Buddhist morality. An account of law-making on the part of the early emperors was developed in a series of historical narratives written over the following centuries. Meanwhile, tensions amongst local rulers and monasteries, the domination of the region by Mongols during China’s Yüan dynasty, and the conflict that followed its collapse, all affected the ways in which Tibetans wrote about law, created legalistic texts, and organised judicial practices.

Colophon of the legal text, Khrims gnyis lta ba'i me long
Colophon of the legal text, Khrims gnyis lta ba'i me long

The members of this project gathered relevant textual material from this period and translated extracts of documents currently scattered throughout different archives and collections. These can be found on this web-site.

The members of the project examined these texts in detail, in order to trace the different strands of legal thought that emerged during this period. They explored tensions between them and examined attempts by Tibetan writers to reconcile religious, ethical, and jurisprudential ideals. The approach was socio-historical, involving close examination of textual sources, but considering legal, ethical, and religious ideas in their social and political contexts. Thoughts and preliminary conclusions have been posted in the form of blogs on this web-site.

The ultimate aim is to bring the results of this research into comparison with scholarship on Islamic, Indic, Christian, and Chinese legal traditions. The relationship between law and religion is one of the great themes of historical legal scholarship, yet the legal realm of Tibet has barely been considered from a socio-historic perspective. In related publications, anthropological and comparative insights are being brought to bear on this important field. 

The project was run, from 2016 to 2018, by:

Fernanda Pirie
Professor of the Anthropology of Law


Charles Manson
Research Officer in the History of Tibetan Law

It was funded by
The Arts and Humanities Research Council
and based at 
The Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of Oxford.