Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples
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“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 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; the Dalai Lama and his Middle Way approach; negotiations with China; and human rights in Tibet.
- Buddhism Across the Himalayas including philosophical debate and the tradition of the masked dances of the Tantric deities; Newar and Theravadin Buddhist traditions in Nepal; religious tourism and pilgrimage; and meditation and retreat.
- Contemporary Tibetan Culture including an overview of women's issues in exile; the new Tibetan dream of going to the West; nongovernmental organizations; and monastic versus modern education.
- Cultural Anthropology including social structures in Tibetan exile communities and in Tibet.
- Arts and Sciences including Tibetan medicine and astrology; Tibetan thangka painting; Buddhist symbolism and art; and Himalayan secular music.
Kathmandu (Program Base)
Students spend the first six weeks of the program living in Kathmandu, Nepal's political and cultural capital, and home to an important 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 learned 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 in the Himalayan context. Less formal instruction is also provided during educational excursions. Students wishing to pursue an Independent Study Project in Nepal also have the option of learning functional Nepali.
Field Methods and Ethics Seminar
The Field Methods and Ethics seminar focuses on the concepts of learning across cultures and from field experience. Material 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
Assigned papers provide an opportunity for students to test the tools introduced during the Field Methods and Ethics seminar while providing occasions for discussions on ethics and intercultural readings. Throughout the Field Methods and Ethics seminar, students work to properly 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.
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 conducted in Tibetan and Himalayan communities in Nepal or another approved location appropriate to the project.
Students can opt to complete their ISP research in Dharamsala or another approved location in India. The program maintains a base in Dharamsala with a library and area for writing up research. A staff member is based on site to assist students with their ISPs.
The ISP allows students to directly apply the concepts and skills of their experience-based learning in the Field Methods and Ethics seminar and their interdisciplinary coursework, while exploring a topic of particular significance to them.
ISP sample topic areas include:
- The third generation of Tibetans in exile
- Recent developments in medicine and a fusion of medical practices and traditions
- Treatment of traumatic stress syndrome among former political prisoners
- Education for Tibetan nuns
- Options of Tibetan Muslims in exile
- The emergence in Dharamsala of stand-up comedians involved in political satire
- 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
- The United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Nepal: the past five years.
Duration: 15 weeks
Program Base: Nepal, Kathmandu
Language Study: Tibetan
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