Yale Himalaya Initiative

environment | livelihood | culture



1. Center for Trans-Himalayan Studies, Yunnan Minzu University, Kunming
2. Yale Himalaya Initiative
3. Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology
4. Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies


Dan Smyer Yü (Ph.D. University of California at Davis)
Professor/Founding Director
Center for Trans-Himalayan Studies 
Yunnan Minzu University

Dan Smyer Yu is Professor and Founding Director of Center for Trans-Himalayan Studies at Yunnan Minzu University, a core member of the Transregional Research Network (CETREN) at University of Göttingen, and a Research Group Leader at Max Planck Institute for Religious and Ethnic Diversity (on leave 2014-15).  He received his doctoral degree in anthropology from the University of California at Davis in 2006, specializing in trans-regional studies of ethnic relations, religious revitalizations, Sino-Tibetan Buddhist interactions, and globalization. His recent publications include The Spread of Tibetan Buddhism in China: Charisma, Money, Enlightenment (monograph, Routledge 2011) and Mindscaping the Landscape of Tibet: Place, Memorability, Eco-aesthetics (monograph, De Gruyter 2015). His current research directions are transboundary governance of natural and human heritages, water and religious diversity, religion and peacebuilding, comparative studies of secularisms in the greater Himalayan region. He is also a documentary filmmaker. His widely screened films include Embrace (50 min. Tibetan mountain culture and ecology 2011) and Rainbow Rider (55 min. Tibetan Buddhism in China 2013).

Alark Saxena (Ph.D. Yale University)
Program Director/Steering Committee Member
Yale Himalayan Initiative
Lecturer, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Yale University

Alark Saxena is the Program Director of Yale Himalaya Initiative and a Lecturer at the School of Forestry and Environmental StudiesAlark is a social-ecologist who is interested in questions associated to sustainability, resilience and livelihood using a systems approach.  His current research is focused in India and Nepal. In India, Alark is developing a complex model to evaluate livelihood resilience of forest based communities. Within Himalayas, Alark is modeling the impacts of tourism on local livelihood and culture in the Sagarmatha National park, Nepal. Himalayas have been a part of Alark’s life since his teenage days. As the Program Director of Yale Himalaya Initiative, Alark works to strengthen old and forge new relationships between Yale and the Himalayan region. 

Andrew Quintman (Ph.D. University of Michigan)
Associate Professor
Department of Religious Studies
Steering Committee Member of Yale Himalaya Initiative
Yale University

Andrew Quintman is Associate Professor of Religious Studies, specializing in the Buddhist traditions of Tibet and the Himalaya. His areas of teaching and research include Buddhist literature and history, sacred geography and pilgrimage, and visual cultures of the wider Himalayan region. He is also interested in the religious and literary histories of Tibet’s unique southern border communities.

His recent book, The Yogin and the Madman: Reading the Biographical Corpus of Tibet’s Great Saint Milarepa (Columbia University Press 2014), won the American Academy of Religion’s 2014 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion and the 2015 Heyman Prize for outstanding scholarship from Yale University. In 2010 his new English translation of the Life of Milarepa was published by Penguin Classics. He is currently working on two new projects, one exploring Buddhist religious and literary culture in the borderlands of Tibet and Nepal, and the other examining the life of the Buddha through the visual and literary materials associated with Jonang Monastery in western Tibet. He has also been working to document and analyze traditional Bhutanese temple artwork within its historical context.

He completed his undergraduate studies at Hampshire College and his graduate work at the University of Michigan. Prior to coming to Yale in 2009, he served for seven years as Academic Director of the School for International Training’s Tibetan Studies program based in Kathmandu. Between 2001-2007 he also led a summer program for Tibetan Studies in Tibet offered through the University of Michigan. From 2006-2009 he joined Princeton University’s Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts, where he held the Cotsen-Mellon Fellowship in the History of the Book. He is former Co-Chair of the Tibetan and Himalayan Religions Group of the American Academy of Religion and is co-leading a five-year seminar at the AAR on Religion and the Literary in Tibet. He is also Faculty Coordinator for the Yale Himalaya Initiative. For 2015–2017, he is a scholar in the ACLS-Ho Foundation Program in Buddhist Studies.

Keynotes, instructors and guest speakers

Mary Evelyn Tucker (Ph.D. Columbia University)
Co-Director, Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology
Steering Committee Member of Yale Himalaya Initiative
Senior Researcher, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Yale University

Mary Evelyn Tucker is a Senior Lecturer and Research Scholar at Yale University where she teaches in a joint master’s degree program between the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the Divinity School. She directs the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale with her husband, John Grim. Her special area of study is Asian religions. She has lived in Japan for several years and received her Ph.D. from Columbia University in Japanese Confucianism. Since 1997 she has been a Research Associate at the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard. Her Confucian publications include: Moral and Spiritual Cultivation in Japanese Neo-Confucianism (SUNY, 1989) and The Philosophy of Qi (Columbia University Press, 2007). She edited two volumes on Confucian Spirituality (Crossroad, 2003, 2004) with the renowned Confucian scholar, Tu Weiming. She and John Grim have published Ecology and Religion (Island Press, 2014). They are also Executive Producers of the Emmy award-winning film, Journey of the Universe.

John Grim (Ph.D. Fordham University)
Co-Director, Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology
Senior Researcher, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Yale University

John Grim is currently a Senior Lecturer and Senior Research Scholar at Yale University teaching courses that draw students from the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Yale Divinity School, the Department of Religious Studies, the Institution for Social and Policy Studies, and the Yale Colleges. He is Coordinator of the Forum on Religion and Ecology with Mary Evelyn Tucker, and series editor of “World Religions and Ecology,” from Harvard Divinity School’s Center for the Study of World Religions. In that series he edited Indigenous Traditions and Ecology: the Interbeing of Cosmology and Community (Harvard, 2001). He has been a Professor of Religion at Bucknell University, and at Sarah Lawrence College where he taught courses in Native American and Indigenous religions, World Religions, and Religion and Ecology. His published works include: The Shaman: Patterns of Religious Healing Among the Ojibway Indians (University of Oklahoma Press, 1983) and edited a volume with Mary Evelyn Tucker entitled Worldviews and Ecology (Orbis, 1994, 5th printing 2000), and a Daedalus volume (2001) entitled, “Religion and Ecology: Can the Climate Change?” John is also President of the American Teilhard Association.

Georgina Drew (Ph.D. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Lecturer, Department of Anthropology & Development Studies
The University of Adelaide, Australia

Georgina Drew is a Lecturer of Anthropology and Development Studies at the School of Social Sciences, the University of Adelaide, Australia. Her research interests include water, environmental subjectivities, climate change, cultural politics of development, identity and agency, feminist political ecology, and religion and ecology. Her exemplary work is shown in her recent publications such as “Everyday Religion, Sustainable Environments, and New Directions in Himalayan Studies” a co-edited special issue with Ashok Gurung for Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture (2015), “Transformation and Resistance on the Upper Ganga: The Case of British Canal Irrigation” (South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 2015), “Women, Dams, and the Gendered Dimensions of Environmental Protest in the Garhwal Himalaya” (Mountain Research and Development 2014), and “Developing the Himalaya: Development as if Livelihoods Mattered” (Himalaya: The Journal for the Association of Nepal and Himalayan Studies 2014), to name a few.

Alexander Horstmann (Ph.D. University of Bielefeld)
Associate Professor
Department of Cross-cultural and Regional Studies
University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Alexander Horstmann is an Associate Professor at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He has published widely on the livelihood and social support networks of displaced Karen in Thailand and Burma and has a forthcoming volume on Refugees and Religion. His current research also includes fieldwork and theoretical thinking on ethnic riots, transitions to violence, hate campaigns, rumors, trust, morality, civility and questions of everyday multiculturalism. He has launched a new project on missionization among vulnerable people, the politics of conversion among Southeast Asian refugees and Diaspora and the assertion of local Christianities in Southeast Asia.

Li Quanmin (Ph.D. Australian National University)
Associate Professor
Yunnan Provincial Institute for Ethnic Studies
Yunnan Minzu University

 Li Quanmin is an Associate Professor at Yunnan Provincial Institute for Ethnic Studies, Yunnan Minzu University. She received her Ph.D. in anthropology from Australian National University in 2009. Research interests are ecological anthropology, cross-border ethnic groups in Southeast Asia, and De’ang people in Yunnan.  In recent publications include Identity, Relationships and Difference: the Social Life of Tea in a group of Mon-Khmer Speaking People along the China-Myanmar Frontier (monograph, Yunnan University Press 2011), “Tea and Ang: The Market Economy of A Group of Mon-Khmer Speaking Tea Planters in Yunnan” (The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 2010), “Linguistic Collection and the Tea World of the De’ang Ethnic Group” (Journal of Guangxi Minzu University 2013), and “Disaster Warning and Phenological Calendar of Farming Activities of De’ang Ethnic Group” (Journal of Southwest Minzu University 2013).

Zeng Li (Ph.D. Renmin University of China)
Associate Professor
School of Humanities
Yunnan Minzu University

Zeng Li is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the School of Humanities, Yunnan Minzu University, and a core member of the Center for the Study of Cross-border Religious and Social Issues in Yunnan. He received his Ph.D. in sociology from Renmin University of China in 2011. His research interests are sociology of religion, ethnic minority religious affairs, and the intersection of religion and tourism. He is the author of Religious Tourism in Yunnan Province (Renmin Press 2012), Reconstruction of Rituals: Revival of Confucianism in Jianshui County, Yunnan Province (Basu Press 2012), and numerous article articles and book chapters.

Li Yunxia (Ph.D. Macquarie University)
Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology
Yunnan Minzu University

Li Yunxia is an assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology, Yunnan Minzu University. She received her M.Phil in anthropology from University of Bergen, Norway in 2006 and Ph.D. in anthropology in 2013 from Macquarie University, Australia. Her research focuses mainly on Southwest China, Northern Laos and China-Lao border areas. Her training in sociology and anthropology respectively focused on gender and food studies. Currently, her research interests include frontier issues, Western and Chinese modes of aid and development, trans-border capital and human flows, agrarian studies, gender and ethnic policies. She has been actively involved in several projects related to public health and gender studies. Prior to these projects, she also participated in gender training programs sponsored by Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. She has published articles on gender, cosmologies, and domestic education of the Hani/Akha. Her current research project focuses ethnic social networks in China-Lao borderlands.

Wang Jianhua (Ph.D. University of California at Riverside)
Yunnan Provincial Institute for Ethnic Studies
Yunnan Minzu University

Wang Jianhua (Nyawrbyeivq Aryoeq) is an Assistant Researcher at Yunnan Provincial Ethnology Research Institute, Yunnan University for Nationalities, China. He received his Ph.D. in anthropology from University of California at Riverside. Geographically, his research work focuses on the Mekong Region of the Mainland Southeast Asia on these topics and issues: Cultural ecology and political ecology of natural resource management; Ethnobiology (particularly of relations between cultural and biological diversity); Indigenous people and sustainable development; Government policies and natural resource management /sustainable development; Rotational farming/swidden agriculture; Community-based natural resource management; and Hani-Akha history, culture and language.

Hans Steinmüller (Ph.D. London School of Economics)
Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
The MSc programme China in Comparative Perspective

London School of Economics

Hans Steinmüller is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the London School of Economics. He has conducted long-term fieldwork in the Enshi region of Hubei Province in central China, focusing on family, work, ritual, and the local state. The main object of his research is the ethics of everyday life in rural China, but he has also written on topics such as gambling, rural development, and Chinese geomancy (fengshui). He has recently started a fieldwork project with the Wa of Southwest China, where he focuses on transborder relations, local identities, and ethnicity. At LSE, Hans is the director of the MSc programme China in Comparative Perspective. He is the author of Communities of Complicity. Everyday Ethics in Rural China (2013), and the co-editor (with Susanne Brandtstädter) of Irony, Cynicism and the Chinese State (2016).

Yang Cheng (M.A. University of Bergen)
Associate Professor
School of Mathematics and Computer Science
Yunnan Minzu University

Yang Cheng is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Yunnan Minzu University. She did her graduate studies in development anthropology at Bergen University, Norway. Her research interests are urbanization, migrant farmers, and land loss in Southwest China.


Na Jinhua
President of Yunnan Minzu University
Professor of Higher Education Management
Yunnan Minzu University

Li Bingze
Vice President of Yunnan Minzu University
Professor of International Relations
Yunnan Minzu University

Sir Peter Crane
Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. Dean
The School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Professor of Botany
Yale University

Geng Yi (Ellie)
Deputy Director/Associate Professor
Office for International Exchange and Cooperation
Yunnan Minzu University