Valentina Punzi - researcher of Tibetan sacred geography and a familiar face for UT | University of Tartu Asian Center

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Valentina Punzi conducting field work in Qinghai

Valentina Punzi - researcher of Tibetan sacred geography and a familiar face for UT

Dr Valentina Punzi, a visiting lecturer from “L´Orientale” University of Naples, taught a course on Tibetan Sacred Geography between 6th to 14th of February at the Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore.

Valentina is a familiar face for the University of Tartu. In 2013, during her PhD studies, Valentina did an exchange semester at the folklore department. She had already met the head of the department, Ülo Valk, before at a conference in 2011 in Bhutan on the topic of sacred mountains.

She says that her brightest memory of her student time at UT was a trip to Elva with her fellow students. “There was a sense of community with the other students of the department.” On a more serious note she adds and that the department also exposed her to critical thinking in general. “It was good to get a methodology course here. I had plenty of data from my fieldwork in China but I did not know what to do with it.”

Ever since her studies here, Valentina has kept in contact with the faculty and its members. It was Valentina´s idea to read a course on Tibet and pay a visit to the department. Valentina´s lectures were focused on Tibetan sacred geography. This was also the topic of her PhD dissertation. “My PhD focused on contemporary social and religious life surrounding a Tibetan mountain god in Amdo (Qinghai province, People's Republic of China), where I did ethnographic fieldwork and a digitalization project for the Endangered Archive Program of the British Library.” 

Valentina documenting materials

“I was essentially studying how geography and landscape are approached by Tibetans in their religious beliefs, how certain meanings for the local people have changed over time and what has been the impact of the politics implemented by the central government.” She adds, “this research is interesting and relevant because it illuminates different systems of knowledge and cultural diversity.” Valentina´s research and findings can be read in more detail on her academic profile.

Visiting the department was also driven by the fact that the folklore department currently has a PhD student, Kikee D. Bhutia, working on similar topics of geography and pilgrimage in the Indian state Sikkim. Valentina explains “I wanted to meet Kikee and see if there is potential for cooperation. We are currently working on the possibility of having a joint project in the near future.”

After the two weeks visit, Valentina will be returning to Italy where she just started her post-doctorate in September. However, she will keep close contact with the folklore department as they are now working on organizing a joint workshop about demons and other supernatural beings in Asia (to  take place at UT in November). Furthermore, the folklore department now has an Erasmus connection with “L`Orientale” which means that we can expect more student and lecturer exchanges between the two institutions in the future.

Written by Mart Veliste, 17.02.17