The White Lama Ippolito: An Italian Jesuit in Tibet

Among the famous Jesuit missionaries to Asia, one thinks immediately of Francis Xavier, who arrived in Japan in 1549, and Matteo Ricci, who arrived in Macau in 1582. Less famous than these giants of the Society of Jesus was the Tuscan priest Ippolito Desideri, who arrived in Lhasa in 1716 with the fervent hope of converting the people of Tibet to Christianity. He failed, yet his mission to Tibet marks one of the most fascinating moments in the encounter between Christianity and Buddhism. Desideri studied in Buddhist monasteries and learned Tibetan well, composing long and learned treatises in classical Tibetan. Desideri considered the Tibetans to be idol worshippers, but he also believed that they were redeemable, in part because of the commitment to reason that he found among Buddhist monks and that he read in Buddhist texts. This lecture will explore Desideri's strategy for bringing Tibet to the true faith, examining his writings in both Italian and Tibetan.

Discussant: Leonard van der Kuijp, Professor of Tibetan and Himalayan Studies

Donald S. Lopez, Jr., is Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan. He was educated at the University of Virginia, receiving a doctorate in religious studies in 1982. After teaching at Middlebury College, he joined the faculty of the University of Michigan in 1989. He is the author or editor of more than 20 books, which have been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Czech, Polish, Korean, and Chinese. They include Elaborations on Emptiness: Uses of the Heart Sutra (1996), Buddhism in Practice (1995), Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism Under Colonialism (1995), Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West (1998), The Story of Buddhism (2001), A Modern Buddhist Bible (2002), Buddhist Scriptures (2004), Critical Terms for the Study of Buddhism (2005), The Madman's Middle Way (2005), Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed (2008), and In the Forest of Faded Wisdom: 104 Poems of Gendun Chopel (2009). His most recent book is The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography (2011).