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The Zhabdrung’s Legacy: Buddhism and Constitutional Transformation in Bhutan

Whitecross, Richard W.



Tom Ginsburg

Benjamin Schonthal


The charismatic Tibetan religious hierarch, the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal unified Bhutan in the second quarter of the seventeenth century. The Zhabdrung introduced a “dual system” of secular and religious government that remained in place until the establishment of the current monarchy in 1907. Major institutional reforms implemented by the third king saw the state-sponsored Central Monk Body gain roles in the National Assembly and the Royal Advisory Council that lasted until 2008. In its transition to a democracy in 2008 Buddhism was declared to be separate from politics with monks, nuns, and lay practitioners (gomchen) prohibited from taking part in elections or voting. The chapter outlines the transformation from a theocratic “dual system” to a constitutional monarchy and the unforeseen consequences of the separation of religion and politics now emerging in Bhutan.

Online Publication Date Nov 18, 2022
Publication Date 2022
Deposit Date Dec 13, 2022
Publicly Available Date Dec 13, 2022
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Pages 73-98
Series Title Comparative Constitutional Law and Policy
Book Title Buddhism and Comparative Constitutional Law
Chapter Number 4
Keywords Buddhism, constitutionalis, Bhutan, Tibet, theocracy, secularism
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