Visions of Community

The Special Research Area (SFB) VISCOM ("Visions of Community: Comparative Approaches to Ethnicity, Region and Empire in Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, 400-1600 CE") is an interdisciplinary project which combines serveral institutes of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the University of Vienna. Between 2011 and 2019 the IKGA contributed several sub-projects in Tibetan, South Asian and Buddhist Studies. The VISCOM project produced an extensive illustrated final report.

Outline of the VISCOM Project

VISCOM proposes a comparative approach focusing on Christian, Islamic and Buddhist examples in the course of the Middle Ages in order to explore the interaction between religious and political visions of community. All three religions were used to legitimize imperial rule, but they also encouraged other forms of community, be they local, regional, civic, or ethnic. Here, interesting differences become visible: for instance, ethnicity played a different role in the three cultural zones.

Was that due to the respective impact of religion, or, in some cases, rather to their lack of impact? How did concepts, perceptions or cultural memories frame the emergence of new communities, and how were they in turn influenced by religious discourses?

How did different forms of community (for instance, regional or ethnic groups and empires) interact? These problems are situated between the fields of history and social anthropology, of European and Asian studies, between religious and political history, between research on discourse and on practices of community.

The VISCOM project at the IKGA: The Tibetan Empire and the Formation of Buddhist Civilisations in the Highlands

Research in the project conducted at the IKGA was geographically and culturally focused on the Tibetan Plateau, but also extended into border regions to the south (i.e. Nepal and Northern India). The principal objective was to investigate the distinctive forms of communities that emerged in the context of the adoption and transformation of Buddhism. Historically, Buddhism was assimilated in Tibet in two main stages, each time in connection with extensive processes of cultural exchange with neighbouring regions: first, during the period of the Tibetan Empire (7th–9th c. CE) and, after the empire collapsed and the monastic institutions which had emerged during that imperial period disappeared, the Tibetan Buddhist Renaissance beginning in the late 10th century. Noble families, rulers and religious authorities in the Renaissance period formed and legitimated their identities by referring to the increasingly glorified time of the empire, while at the same time adapting new Buddhist doctrines, practices, as well as forms of community through cultural contact, chiefly with Indian regions. As a result of this historical constellation, the project conducted research relating to both of these periods.


Research in the project was organised into five sub-programmes focussing on different forms of community.

Project data