Yale Himalaya Initiative

environment | livelihood | culture

Projects

Digital Himalaya

The Digital Himalaya project was designed by Alan Macfarlane and Mark Turin as a strategy for archiving and making available valuable ethnographic materials from the Himalayan region. Based at the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, the project was established in December 2000. From 2002 to 2005, the project moved to the Department of Anthropology at Cornell University and began its collaboration with the University of Virginia. From August 2011, Digital Himalaya is colocated at Cambridge and Yale Universities.

Life of the Buddha at Jonang Monastery: Literature, Art, and Institution

A project co-directed by Andrew Quintman (Yale University) and Kurtis Schaeffer (University of Virginia) to examine the life of the Buddha through the literary and visual resources of Jonang Monastery in western Tibet. The project documents some of Tibet’s most significant literary, ritual, and visual materials depicting the life of Śākyamuni Buddha. In doing so, it re-foregrounds the central importance of the historical Buddha within the Tibetan cultural world. The project has two phases: (1) photographing, archiving, analyzing, and translating a rare collection of temple murals, inscriptions, and related literature produced at Jonang Monastery; and (2) producing an interactive multimedia website suitable as a research tool and for use in courses on Buddhism, Asian Religions, and South Asian history. The project will also culminate in a published monograph.

Buddhism on the Border: Religious Culture on the Frontier of Tibet and Nepal

An investigation led by Andrew Quintman focusing on the unique religious communities of southern Tibet through an analysis of printed and manuscript texts, their local production, and trans-national dissemination. In particular, this project seeks to understand Kyirong, and Tibet’s southern border more broadly, as a site of significant religious innovation in the early modern period reflected through the life and literary oeuvre of Chokyi Wangchuk (Chos kyi dbang phyug, 1775-1837), a pivotal figure in the transmission of Buddhist culture in southern Tibet. The project illuminates the key factors that led to Kyirong’s ascendant position: the rise of new Buddhist institutions, expanded literary production, and trans-Himalayan networks of religious exchange during the critical moment just before Tibet’s first major encounters with the modern world. It further aims to explore how a provincial region on the Himalayan margins could exercise widespread and enduring influence on the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. In doing so, it addresses another set of underlying questions:  to what degree can we describe the religious systems stemming from the region as a unique or local form of Buddhism–a borderland Buddhism? And to what degree might Chokyi Wangchuk’s remote monastic seat, far removed from the grand monasteries of Lhasa, be understood as its own powerful center, a “center on the periphery?”

Religion and the Literary in Tibet

A five-year seminar, co-directed by Andrew Quintman (Yale University) and Kurtis Schaeffer (University of Virginia) and held in conjunction with the American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting. The contemporary academic study of Tibetan religions has typically approached religious literature as a source to be mined for data about religion. In so doing the field frequently uses the term “literature” to refer to something that contains information, but has no significance in its own terms. This seminar shifts focus from literature conceived of as an inert container to literature as an active process that is itself conceptually rich. We will collectively engage in new research on the forms, structures, and styles of Tibetan literature and their effects on religious discourse and practice. In so doing we will bring into high relief the very question of how the category of “literature” is heuristically productive for the future of the study of Tibetan religion. The seminar will result in the publication of an edited volume of essays on the forms and functions of Tibetan religious writing.

Inequality and Affirmative Action in South Asia: Current Experiences and Future Agendas in India and Nepal

Since February 2009, this interdisciplinary partnership between scholars in Nepal (Tribhuvan University), India (Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Islamia), the UK (Goldsmiths University of London and the Institute of Education) and the US (Yale University) has worked together to analyse historical and contemporary debates on affirmative action in India, and their implications for emerging policies on affirmative action in Nepal. Sara Shneiderman at Yale University has been one of the six primary project partners, and is a co-convenor of the concluding partnership conference to be held in Kathmandu, Nepal in July 2012, entitled “Inequality and Affirmative Action: Situating Nepal in Global Debates”.

The partnership’s activities to date have included funding and supervising graduate research fellows at Tribhuvan University in Nepal and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, to conduct ethnographic research on topics related to inequality and affirmative action; a conference JNU in November 2009 entitled “Inequality and Affirmative Action in South Asia”; a workshop at the Institute of Education, University of London, in July 2010 entitled “Positive Action in the UK”; a conference panel at the European Conference of Modern South Asian Studies in Bonn, Germany, in July 2010 entitled “Inequality and Affirmative Action in South Asia”; organizing visiting fellowships for South Asian scholars at Goldsmiths in London; and the planned publication of a special issue of the journal Focaal: Journal of Global and Historical Anthropological Research, entitled “Towards an Anthropology of Affirmative Action: the Practices, Policies and Politics of Transforming Inequality in South Asia”, currently under review.

Trans-Himalayan Citizens

This ongoing project, led by Sara Shneiderman, explores the dynamics of mobility and citizenship in the Himalaya. Based on ethnographic research conducted in border regions of Nepal, India and China, the project considers how individuals who cross borders between these nation-states on a regular basis — for economic, cultural, and/or religious reasons — consider themselves to be part of transregional Inter-Asian flows, as well as grounded in local, national, and regional formations of belonging. The historical trope of “trans-Himalayan traders” serves as a foundation for this work. This term was commonly used in early anthropological literature on the region to describe people originating on either side of the mountain range, whose livelihoods relied upon upon regular travel to the other. This project expands the geographical and economic focus of that rubric to consider the socio-political dimensions of trans-Himalayan mobility over time. For people who move between parts of what are often called East, South and Southeast Asia, how are state-specific regimes of recognition and entitlement understood? How is multiple citizenship enacted, through practices of ritual and kinship, across border regions where it is technically illegal? Exploring these questions will provide crucial insight into the lived experience of cross-border connectivity in an integral yet often overlooked region of Asia.

Khumbu Tourism Study

Building Community Resiliency though Sustainable Tourism in Khumbu Region, Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal

The Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies is conducting a research project to investigate sustainable tourism management of the Sagarmatha National Park and Buffer Zone (SNPBZ) located in Nepal. The project aims to develop a clearer understanding of the tourism dynamics including drivers, critical linkages and feedbacks.  There are few viable “centers of economic activity” inside Khumbu.  Instead, the two major centers (tourism and remittance) largely trade with Kathmandu and generate little money circulation within the Khumbu.  It is presumed that, if the Sherpa people are more prosperous they will be more concerned about the quality of environment—and more active in preventing the tourism/degradation. The output from this phase of the project, funded by a gift from Forrest Berkley, will be a research paper analyzing the flow of funds and benefits in the tourism business in the Khumbu area.  These research findings will be useful for future tourism management and planning for the SNP.

Linguistic Survey of Sikkim

From September 2005 to November 2006, under the auspices of the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology and in close partnership with the Government of Sikkim, India, Mark Turin directed the first phase of a modern linguistic survey of Sikkim. During the survey process, the research team visited 105 government and private secondary schools across Sikkim to administer an extensive questionnaire on language use to students in classes 8-12. The preliminary results of these 17,000 completed survey forms offer insights into the process of language shift from indigenous mother tongues to regional vernaculars, the growing importance of linguistic heritage and feelings of group belonging over actual competence in specific languages, and the symbolic and practical steps taken by the state government to support linguistic diversity in Sikkim.