Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples

Key Features

“I was incredibly honored when my ISP was recognized by the National Trust for Nature Conservation in Nepal. It gives me renewed confidence that the research we do can accomplish something.”

—Sierra Gladfelter, Temple University

The Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples program examines the myriad factors — including historical, religious, economic, and political forces — that have shaped, and will continue to shape, the diverse Himalayan communities inhabiting Nepal, northern India, Bhutan, and the Tibetan Autonomous Region and other Tibetan zones in China. Particular emphasis is placed on societies with Tibetan/Himalayan Buddhist cultures.

Lectures and discussions on this program, provided both in Kathmandu and on excursion, incorporate the following topics:

  • Regional History and Politics including twentieth-century occupation and exile; CIA intervention in Tibet from Nepal; the Dalai Lama and his Middle Way approach; negotiations with China; human rights in Tibet; Nepalese civil war (1996–2006, Maoist “People’s War”) and the writing of the new (2008) Federal Democratic Republic’s representative Constitution; Bhutanese democracy and GNH (gross national happiness).
  • Buddhism Across the Himalayas including philosophical debate; Newar and Theravadin Buddhist traditions in Nepal; religious tourism and pilgrimage; meditation and retreat.
  • Contemporary Tibetan Civilization including an overview of women's issues in exile; the new Tibetan dream of going to the West; nongovernmental organizations; democracy in exile; monastic versus modern education; the burgeoning Tibetanization of Himalayan cultures.
  • Cultural Anthropology including social structures and the tradition of the masked dances of the Tantric deities in Tibetan exile and rural Himalayan communities.
  • Arts and Sciences including Tibetan medicine and astrology; Tibetan thangka painting; Buddhist symbolism and art; Himalayan secular music.

In-country resources include:

Resources in the region include:
In Dharamsala: 

In Ladakh:

In Sikkim:

In Bhutan:

Studying with language partners at program house in Kathmandu

Kathmandu (Program Base)
Students spend the first six weeks of the program living in Kathmandu, Nepal's crowded political and cultural capital, and home to a significant Tibetan exile community.

During their time in Kathmandu, students live as part of a homestay family and attend lectures both at the program house and across the city. Students may experience a discussion on the Bön religion at a respected institute halfway up a mountain on the valley’s periphery, hear a lecture delivered by a traditional Ayurvedic doctor in the heart of the old town, or talk with the caretaker of one of Kathmandu's ancient pagoda shrines.

The Kathmandu base facilitates exploration of Tibetan and related groups living in high altitude mountain settlements elsewhere in Nepal and beyond.

Tibetan Language Study
Students receive intensive language instruction in Tibetan during the program period in Kathmandu. Formal classroom instruction in Tibetan is complemented by traditional Tibetan tutorials that are characteristic of spiritual training in Buddhist text recitation and analysis. Less formal instruction is also provided during educational excursions. Students wishing to pursue an Independent Study Project in Nepal or one of the many Nepali-speaking regions of the Indian Himalayas or Bhutan also have the option of learning functional Nepali.

Field Methods and Ethics
The Field Methods and Ethics course focuses on cross-cultural and experiential learning. Content includes:

  • Cross-cultural adaptation and skills building
  • Appropriate methodologies
  • Field study ethics and the World Learning/SIT Human Subjects Review Policy
  • Developing contacts and finding resources
  • Developing skills in observation and interviewing
  • Gathering, organizing, and communicating data
  • Maintaining a work journal
  • Twentieth-century ethnography

Assignments permit students to test the tools and methods introduced alongside discussions on ethics and intercultural readings. Throughout the Field Methods and Ethics course, students work to plan and develop their research topics for their Independent Study Project. Students significantly advance their initial ideas, assumptions, and drafts, in close consultation with their academic director and learned colleagues.

Dharamsala program base

Independent Study Project
Students spend the last month of the program working on an Independent Study Project (ISP) in which they conduct primary research on a selected topic. Projects are sited in Tibetan and Himalayan communities in Nepal or another approved location appropriate to the project.

Students can opt to carry out their ISP research in Dharamsala or another approved location in India. The program maintains a branch base in Dharamsala with a library and IT resources. A highly experienced staff member is based on site to facilitate student ISPs.

The ISP allows students to directly apply the concepts and skills of their experience-based learning in the Field Methods and Ethics course and their interdisciplinary coursework, while exploring a topic of particular significance to them individually.

ISP sample topic areas include:

  • Monastic universities for secular students from abroad: the case of the International Buddhist Academy in Tinshuli and its strong contingent of Chinese and Korean disciples
  • Sherpa mountaineering encounters with the World Wildlife Fund, in Nepal and elsewhere in the Eastern Himalayas
  • The politics of lavish sponsorship: a California-based Tibetan foundation renovating the Newar Buddhist hill shrine of Swayambhu
  • HH the 17th Karmapa's daring reforms and his manifesto in favor of a vegetarian diet and environmental preservation
  • The Mind and Life Conferences: Buddhism as a "science of mind and mental transformation" encounters neuroscience and cognitive psychology
  • No longer mindless copying: original grand commissions for alumni at the Thangka Painting School, Shechen Gompa
  • Buddhist art for sale: the semi-antique business and the emergence of a "first class fakes" industry
  • Bön: the pre-Buddhist Tibetan religion and its first generation of Western disciples
  • Options for Tibetan Muslims in exile

Costs Dates

Credits: 16

Duration: 15 weeks

Program Base: Kathmandu

Language Study: Nepali,  Tibetan

Prerequisites: None


View Student Evaluations for this program:

About the Evaluations (PDF)

Fall 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Spring 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2012 Evaluations (PDF)

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