Ulaanbaatar/MONTSAME/ On February 19-22, the UC Berkeley Center for Buddhist Studies, Institute of East Asian Studies, Mongolia Initiative, and Tang Center for Silk Road Studies have successfully co-organized the symposium Points of Transition: Ovoo and the Ritual Remaking of Religious, Ecological, and Historical Politics in Inner Asia at UC Berkeley, California. Thanks to the France-Berkeley Fund and Townsend Center for the Humanities for giving opportunity to scholars to contribute their research to the literature on Mongolian Studies. The “Point of Transition” symposium was attended by staff of the Consulate General of Mongolia in San Francisco, Vice Consul, Mr. Bayartsengel Damdinjav and Vice Consul Byambajargal Serjmyatav.
“Ovoo, the structures of stones, trees, scarves, skulls, steering wheel covers, and a staggering array of other objects that are ubiquitous across the landscape of contemporary Mongolia, Buryatia, Inner Mongolia, and Qinghai, have long marked sites where ritual, though often highly spontaneous, practices invoke the presence of immanent relations. Built and maintained by various publics, gatherings at ovoo have over past centuries been major sites of political action, where the identities of and relationships between more and less local shamans, lamas, imperial officials, businesspeople, bureaucrats, politicians, and nonhumans are narrated, contested, and re-defined. At the same time, ovoo are often engaged individually, by travelers engaging roadside ovoo or at places generally unspoken of others and not visible on the wider landscape, that are especially significant to an individual or intimate group. Scholars from the US, Europe, and Asia will be discussing such issues as how these sites are useful in juxtaposing historical and political narratives, ecological and environmentalist movements, religious practice, and the productive logics of households, businesses, and states.”
The two-day workshop and the symposium involved well-researched scholars in the fields of anthropology, history, and international relations. While the workshop served as an introduction to each participant’s research work, archival documents, and recent developments involving mining, it also served as an opportunity to learn and exchange informed perspectives on ovoo and their utilization at a local, national, and international level.
Well-established anthropologists from France, such as Isabelle Charleux (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), Gaelle Lacaze (Université Paris-Sorbonne), Bernard Charlier (Université Catholique de Louvain), Grégory Delaplace, (Université Paris-Nanterre), Laurent Legrain (Université de Toulouse), Aurore Dumont (Academia Sinica in Taiwan); scholars from the US, Devon Dear, Anne-Sophie Pratte (Harvard University), Brian Baumann (UC Berkeley), Jessica Madison-Pískatá (UC Santa Cruz), Sangseraima Ujeed (UC Santa Barbara), Marissa Smith (De Anza College), Kip Hutchins (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Sam Bass (Indiana University), Rebecca Watters (The Wolverine Foundation) and Bolor Lkhaajav (University of San Francisco) have successfully presented their work.
The “Points of Transition” symposium sparked an intellectual discussion between participants and the audience on ovoos’ historical, political, and social roles. All participants touched on important aspects of the ovoo and its dynamics. The topics range from “Community, Faith, and Politics: the Ovoo Cairns and Rituals of the Shinehen Buryats Throughout the 20th Century” by Dr. Aurore Dumont to “Ovoos on Qing Dynasty Mongol Banner Maps” by Dr. Isabelle Charleux. There are number of scholars shed a light on ovoos’ presence in Mongolian society. For example, Dr. Bernard Charlier wrote about “From Attachment to Detachment: Praying at the Ovoo and Finding One’s Place Far from the Homeland,” highlighting the difficulty of nomads to leave their homeland, mountains, and ovoos and migrating to a new urban setting. Kip Hutchins from the University of Wisconsin-Madison highlighted ovoo as at the heart of Mongolian heritage, yet it creates an environmental conflict. Similarly, Bolor Lkhaajav from University of San Francisco shared her online survey which calls for an action-based policy from the government, NGOs, and possibly the people to clean up the surrounding environment of ovoos around the country. All participants utilized archival documents such as maps, banners, sketches and painting of ovoos —highlighting a niche of research that contributes to the modern literature on Mongolian studies.