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Saxer, Martin (2014): Re-Fusing Ethnicity and Religion: An Experiment on Tibetan Grounds. In: Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, Vol. 43, No. 2: pp. 181-204
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The relation between ethnicity and religion has had a troubled history in the People’s Republic of China. Conflating religious prac-tice with ethnic culture is considered to carry the risk of breeding “splittism” – especially in Tibet and Xinjiang. While in the post-Mao era the outright hostility against religion has given way to a religious revival, keeping religion and (nationality) politics separate has re-mained a major concern for the Chinese Communist Party. Religion is supposed to be a private matter that does not interfere with pol-itics. Against this backdrop, a recent phenomenon in the Tibet Au-tonomous Region is all the more remarkable: the (re-)fusion of eth-nicity and religion under the label of cultural heritage and its protec-tion. This paper approaches this officially endorsed re-fusion ethno-graphically and examines its wider implications. I argue that endors-ing religion as an attribute of Tibetan heritage corresponds to the concept of defining public spaces and events in which religious prac-tice is legitimate and expected. Simultaneously, religious practices outside these dedicated spaces and events become even more prob-lematic, leading to everyday Buddhist practices, such as circumambu-lation, being seen as (and performed as) political acts.