Document Type



Master of Arts (MA)


Religious Studies

First Advisor's Name

Nathan Katz

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Steven Heine

Third Advisor's Name

Albert Wuaku


Tibetan Buddhism, Buddhism in the West, Western Lamas, adaptation, legitimation, American Buddhism, Transmission

Date of Defense



This thesis presents a study of the role of western lamas within Tibetan Buddhism in America, arguing that the role of the lama is as an influential and central aspect in the development and transformation of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition in the west. This thesis argues how western lamas holding a position of authority act as a catalyst of change within their group and in the overall process of change and adaptation of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition in America, creating what may become ‘American Tibetan Buddhism.’ Three relevant areas regarding the role of the lama within the transforming tradition are identified: 1) the basis of authority of the lama, or how authority is obtained; 2) the use of such authority as a tool for change; and 3) transmission of the teachings and lineage.





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