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Natasha Mikles

PhD 2017


  • University of Virginia: Doctorate (2017)
  • Beijing Language and Culture University: International Language Student, Chinese (June - August 2012)
  • Tibet University: International Language Student, Tibetan (Sept. - March 2010)
  • University of Chicago: Master's (June 2010)


The Taming of the King: Nyingma Ethical Revitalization and the Gesar Epic in Early Modern Tibet My dissertation investigates the nineteenth- and twentieth-century ethical revitalization of the Tibetan Buddhist Nyingma sect through a detailed examination of the Gesar epic’s final narrative, the Nyeling Dzogpa Chenpo (The Great Conquest of Hell). Ultimately, this dissertation demonstrates the need for a reappraisal of popular literature in the field of Buddhist studies that acknowledges it as a constitutive force in the transformation of religious doctrine and practice. 

  • College of William and Mary: Bachelor's (May 2008)

Research Interests

My primary research interest surrounds the Conquest of Hell episodes of the Tibetan Ling Gesar epic, wherein Gesar conquers hell to save his mother and other hell-beings. As part of this work, I am particularly interested in both the articulation and development of hell realms in Buddhist thought more generally and the role of narrative in promoting hell-related practices. Beyond hell literature, I am also interested in how bibliographic techniques can enhance our study of Tibetan books and provide a more profound understanding of the material culture of the Tibetan plateau.


Chinese Religions, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. Summer 2016

Problems in the Study of Religion: Buddhism, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX. Spring 2016

Tibetan Religions, (Teaching Assistant), University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. Spring 2013, Fall 2012, Spring 2012. 

Zen Buddhism, (Teaching Assistant), University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. Fall 2011.  

I am committed to continually enhancing my pedagogical training. To this end, I have participated in the Course Design Institute, the Seminar for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, and the Tomorrow's Professor Today Program, all of which are run through the University of Virginia Teaching Resource Center. These programs provide the opportunity for participants to explore the latest theory on pedagogy and effective teaching, while also designing student learning-focused syllabi and developing their own repertoire of pedagogical techniques. I was fortunate enough to be selected to lead the Fall 2013 Teaching Resource Center pedagogy seminar.

Selected Fellowships and Grants

  • Charlotte W. Newcombe Dissertation Fellowship ($25,000), Aug. 2016 – May 2017
  • Buckner W. Clay Grant supporting the Symposium on the Tibetan Book ($4,262), May 2014
  • Jefferson Trust Grant supporting Symposium on the Tibetan Book ($24,040), Feb. 2014 
  • Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellow ($35,000), East Asia—Chinese, Aug. 2013 – May 2014
  • Rare Book School Fellow ($1,500) , Summer 2013
  • Battestin Fellow ($3,500), Summer 2013 
  • Department of State Critical Language Scholarship ($15,000), Advanced Chinese, Summer 2012
  • University of Virginia Bibliographic Society Book Collecting Contest ($75), Honorable Mention, March 2012

Selected Presentations

  • Karmic Reservations and Resolutions: Narrative Imagination and Ethical Formation in Gesar’s Descent through Hell, American Academy of Religion Annual Conference, November 2016
  • Ideological Narratives: A Rimé Challenge to Geluk Power through King Gesar in Hell, American Academy of Religion Annual Conference, November 2016
  • A Most Unexpected Teacher: King Gesar, Dzogchen, and the Rimé Movement, International Association of Tibetan Studies, June 2016. 
  • The Dalai Lama as King Gesar, the Karmapa as his Warrior: Mythic History to Bind the Dis-Membered Body of Tibet, Association of Asian Studies Annual Conference, April 2016. 
  • Salvation and its Implications: King Gesar’s Descent to Hell and the Construction of a Tantric Deity, International Seminar of Young Tibetologists, September 2015. 
  • Selected Publications

Peer Reviewed Articles

  • “Tracking the Tulpa?”: Exploring the ‘Tibetan’ Origins of a Contemporary Paranormal Idea.” NovaReligio.19.1 (2015): 87-97.
  • “Is Nessie a Naga?: The Changing Face of Buddhism in the West.” The Bulletin for the Study of Religion 43.4 (2014): 35-40.
  •  “Buddhism and American Consumerism.” Claremont Journal of Religion 1.2 (2013): 85-99. 

Internet Publications

  • “A Report from the 2014 NEH Summer Institute “Problems in the Study of Religion.”The Bulletin for the Study of Religion. August 20, 2014
  • “Offerings for the Loch Ness Monster—a Sign of Buddhism’s Arrival in the West.” Co-authored with Joseph P. Laycock. The Bulletin for the Study of Religion. May 15, 2014.
  • “Speaking to Outsiders: Can Our Theory Make a Bigger Bang?” The Bulletin for the Study of Religion. January 8, 2013.
  • “Considering Orgasmic Meditation: It’s not ‘Diddling’ when it’s Ritual.” The Bulletin for the Study of Religion. November 4, 2013.   

Professional Service 

  • Board Member for the International Seminar of Young Tibetologists, September 2015 - Present 
  • Symposium on the Tibetan Book, Organizer, November 2014.
  • NEH: The Problem of the Study of Religion, On-Site Manager, July 2014