Ben Joffe
Student: Cultural Anthropology

Ben Joffe is a cultural anthropology PhD candidate from South Africa whose research focuses on the anthropology of Tibet and Tibetan diaspora. His doctoral dissertation research is specifically concerned with Tibetan Buddhist non-celibate tantric ritual specialists, or ngakpa/ma (sngags pa/ma སྔགས་པ/མ), living outside Tibet. He is interested in how the esoteric knowledge and charisma of these long-haired tantric Buddhist wizards are being mediated, circulated, appropriated and contested. His research explores how this is taking place both as a part of the increasing globalization of Tibetan Buddhism, and in light of Tibetans' efforts to make legible a Tibetan nation in exile and to both preserve and reform Tibetan culture as stateless refugees. His research examines how ngakpa/ma engage institutional and other forms of authority in exile, and the ways in which the expertise, charisma and activities of these specialists can be said to contribute to the forging of particular moral orders and imaginaries in situations of dislocation, change and uncertainty. As such, Ben's interests include:

  • The anthropology of magic
  • Shamanism
  • Religion
  • Esotericism, secrecy, and power
  • Gender and sexuality
  • Ritual
  • Medicine and health
  • Healing and illness
  • Performance
  • Consciousness
  • Embodiment
  • Globalization and cultural change
  • Diaspora
  • Nationalism
  • Citizenship

In 2009, Ben conducted research for his MA in Social Anthropology from the University of Cape Town with the few Tibetans living in South Africa at that time, and he has also undertaken research with neo-Pagans in the same country, which dealt with South African Pagans' understanding of their practices, and their relationships with witchcraft legislation and African traditional religion in post-Apartheid South Africa. Ben is actively involved with the anthropology of Western esotericism, occultism, neo-shamanisms, and contemporary magical and witchcraft traditions, and his work on the globalization of esoteric practices brings together the fields of Tibetan, Buddhist and Western Esotericism Studies through ethnographic theory and method.   
Ben is currently conducting longterm ethnographic doctoral fieldwork with both Tibetan and non-Tibetan tantric practitioners in India, Nepal, the UK, US, and South Africa. Two of his research bases are McLeod Ganj, India and Kathmandu, Nepal. He is the recipient of a Wenner-Gren doctoral dissertation grant and the Frederick Williamson Memorial Fund. For a list of presentations and publications, please visit Ben's site.