ICI Research Associate Chris Crews was part of our research group that recently traveled to the far western district of Humla in Nepal as part of our new Sacred Himalaya Initiative. One of his reflection pieces was recently published on the State of Formation religious blog where he is a Contributing Scholars.
I recently returned from a month of fieldwork and research in Humla, the northwestern district of Nepal bordering Tibet and India. I was there as part of a research initiative focused on the concept of sacred landscapes in the Himalaya, with special interest in the pilgrimage routes leading to Mount Kailash (Kang Rinpoche in Tibetan) and Lake Manasarovar. These two geographic features, located on the Tibetan Plateau northwest of Nepal, have served as the focal point for millions of religious pilgrims from a wide range of traditions for centuries. Both are considered sacred sites by Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Bönpos, as well as many syncretic and animist traditions still thriving in the region.
Although I have been doing research on sacred landscapes for several years, this was my first time going to Nepal and walking some of these trans-Himalayan pilgrimage routes that have been used for generations by people within this region. Spending a month traversing this beautiful yet challenging landscape gave me a renewed appreciation for those religious devotees who commit to such an undertaking, as well as the people who have made this area their home. While I wasn’t traveling intentionally as a religious practice, I nonetheless felt a powerful sense of purpose and awe as we climbed mountains, descended valleys and explored the landscape.
One of the most poignant observations for me was how deeply embedded religious symbolism and meaning is within the landscape, far more than I have ever felt in my travels in northern India or southern China. Some of this influence is a function of the Tibetan Buddhist culture of Humla and the Limi Valley area we were in. But even the more Hindu-dominated areas closer to the district capital of Simikot still had a certain sacredness that was distinct. While some of this has to do with the distinct rural mountain folk culture of western Nepal, even in the heart of the Kathmandu Valley and the capital there was a sense of this pervasive religious influence unlike anywhere I have traveled before.
Land of Pure Vision: The Sacred Geography of Tibet and the Himalaya
A public talk by David Zurick, with comments from Dominique Townsend, Columbia University and Rubin Museum of Art and Mark Larrimore, Eugene Lang College, The New School.
This photo illustrated talk explores the intersection of faith and geography in the Himalayan region. It draws upon David Zurick’s many decades of work as a geographer and photographer in the mountains, and centers on his recently completed ten-year series of photographs of sacred landscapes and pilgrims. Maps and pictures in the talk will convey key components of nature, place, networks, and change, which together compose a mental cartography rooted in ritual and religious experience. The purpose of David’s talk is to visually evoke a sacred mountain world where the human spirit is in synchronicity with divine and natural forces, and to explore how the idea of sacred geography upholds both timeless beauty and the inevitably of landscape change.
David Zurick left home in 1975 to journey on the Overland Trail from Europe to Asia and hasn’t looked back. He completed his PhD in Geography at the University of Hawaii and East-West Center, Honolulu, and has written extensively about Asia and the Pacific, with a special focus on the Himalaya region. His writing and photography have won numerous awards, including the National Outdoor Book Award in 2006 for Illustrated Atlas of the Himalaya and the “Mt Everest Award” in 2009 for his Himalaya studies. The subject of much of his writing and photography is the contemporary cultural landscape.
Dominique Townsend is a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University and Head of Interpretation at the Rubin Museum of Art. She has a Masters from Harvard Divinity School and a PhD from Columbia’s Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. Her research focuses on the intersections of Tibetan Buddhism and broader culture with a focus on high culture, education and aesthetics.
Mark Larrimore is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Eugene Lang College. He earned his BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Worcestor College, Oxford and his PhD in Religion from Princeton University. A few of his research interests are the problems of good and evil; race, religion, and ethics in Kant; and historicity of concepts of religion and ethics.
Ecology and the Himalaya
IS 8277 – UENV 3707
Instructor: Georgina Drew
66 West 12th Room 405
Join us for an interdisciplinary seminar that engages the key issues and debates on the state of Himalayan ecologies and the human-nature interactions that influence resource management strategies. The aim of the course is to encourage the exploration of environmental challenges while addressing the complex social and cultural practices that inform, and/or deter, efforts to promote sustainability and human resilience in the face of rapid ecological change. Students will have the opportunity to pursue their own areas of interest in this course and to identify or expand upon areas for future research and writing. The course is cross listed in environmental studies and global studies and is open to students of diverse disciplinary backgrounds.
This course is linked with an initiative on Everyday Religion and Sustainable Environments in the Himalayas (ERSEH) that is coordinated by the The New School’s India China Institute. The initiative, chaired by Ashok Gurung, is in collaboration with the departments of Environmental Studies, Religious Studies, Global Studies, and the Parsons School of Design. Inquiries that ERSEH asks include: What does “sustainability” mean in, and for, the Himalayas? How do ecological interconnections, social systems, and politics constitute and transform the “Himalayas”? What role does everyday religion have on human interactions with the environment?
Dr. Georgina Drew is a postdoctoral scholar for the India China Institute’s initiative on Everyday Religion and Sustainable Environments in the Himalayas. Her work at the institute builds upon her doctoral studies and her extensive research activities in the Indian and Nepali Himalayas.
India China Institute is proud to announce two upcoming Fall 2011 courses sponsored in part by ICI. Students interested in South and South East Asian politics, history, and ecology are encouraged to join. Space is limited!
India and China: ULEC 2710
Professor Sanjay Ruparelia, former ICI fellow, will teach an undergraduate level course on the relationship and history between India and China.
Ecology in the Himalayas: UENC 3707
Join ICI’s post-doctorate fellow, Georgina Drew for an Independent Study course on the intersection of religion and environments in the himalayas. Instructor approval required for enrollment. This course is part of the Everyday Religion and Sustainable Environments in the Himalayas initiative, sponsored by the Luce Foundation and ICI.
ICI is happy to announce that Georgina Drew has been selected for the position of Post-Doctorate Fellows Position. See below for her bio and further information.
Georgina Drew is a Post-Doctoral Fellow of the India China Institute at The New School where she works with an initiative on Everyday Religion and Sustainable Environments in the Himalaya. Georgina’s past research has examined the cultural and religious dimensions of environmental conflict along the upper stretch of the Ganga River in India. Her work and writing explores mixed development desires, gendered practice, human-nature relationships, and the cultural politics of resource management. At ICI, Georgina teaches, continues her research, and helps to build a network of scholars investigating the significance of everyday or lived religion in rapidly developing centers of the Himalaya.
Visit http://www.indiachinainstitute.org/everyday-religion/ for more information about the Everyday Religion and Sustainable Environments in the Himalaya Project.
Four Thematic Groups were formed during the October, 2010 Conference, consisting of esteemed scholars from India, China, Nepal and the United States. Each group will work on a collaborative project addressing a different aspect of the ERSEH initiative. Bios of the participants can be found here.
A. Atlas/mapping of the continuities and changes in sacred conceptions of the environment:
– David Germano
– Pankaj Jain
– Mark Larrimore
– Thomas Mathew
– Tudeng Nima
– Pitambar Sharma
– Dong Shikui
B. Dynamics of local knowledge and practices:
– Anil Chitrakar
– Kul Chandra Gautam
– LHM Ling
– Sonam Puntso
– KC Sivaramakrishnan
– Anne Rademacher
– Chukey Wangchuck
C. Urbanization/migration/ globalization:
– Elizabeth Alison
– Narendra Bajracharya
– Sanjay Chaturvedi
– Ashok Gurung
– Xiaoli Shen
– Cameron Tonkinwise
D. Bridging institutions and perspectives: monastery/temple, civil society, government, science-culture interface:
– Du Fachun
– Sumitra M. Gurung
– Nimmi Kurian
– Mahendra Lama
– Deepak Tamang
– Sara Winter
The official launch of ERSEH took place at at 5-day workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal (October 24-28, 2010). Thirty scholars and experts from India, China, Nepal, Bhutan, and United States, representing the disciplines of religious studies, environmental studies, international affairs, and Himalayan studies, collaboratively developed the foundational research questions, established project goals, and, began to build a community of experts to explore new perspectives in religion, sustainability, and their policy implications.
Faculty members from The New School — Ashok Gurung, L.H.M. Ling, Cameron Tonkinwise, Mark Larrimore, and Sara Winter — make up the core members of ERSEH.
They led small group discussions on the themes of:
– Dynamics of local knowledge and practices
– Mapping continuities and changes in sacred conceptions of the environment
(See workshop agenda, full list of participants and their bios, and research questions below.)
Culminating with a range of interpretations and perspectives, the workshop was a strong starting point to grapple with the complexities of international environmental policy and the role of religion within it. It laid the groundwork for the next few years as ICI continues to spearhead further inquires on the Himalayas’ pressing issue of environmental policy and climate change.
The Henry Luce Foundation has awarded the India China Institute (ICI) a $394 thousand grant to support “Everyday Religion and Sustainable Environments in the Himalaya,” a multi-year research and academic initiative that will explore the complex role of religion in global affairs, with a particular emphasis on environmental issues.
Though there has been growing academic interest in examining the relationships between religion and the environment and religion and global governance, there has been limited scholarship and research on the effect of religion on local environmental policy and international development. As home to a rich diversity of religious tradition and a focal point in the current discussion on climate change, the Himalaya serves as an ideal setting for the project.
“The growing challenge surrounding sustainable environments in the Himalaya transcends national and disciplinary boundaries,” said Ashok Gurung, senior director of ICI. “The Luce Foundation’s grant will allow ICI to convene a new global community of scholars and experts from the U.S., India, China, and their neighbors, who will better articulate pertinent questions and policy concerns surrounding ‘Everyday Religion and Sustainable Environments in the Himalaya.’”
In providing a platform for scholars, practitioners, and students to engage in critical inquiry, fieldwork, and teaching, ICI aims to create a vehicle for action. Findings from fieldwork and applied research will be disseminated through published reports, a portal on the ICI website, and through public programs and international conferences in the U.S., India, China, and other countries in the Himalaya region. Beyond the university’s academic enterprise, the availability of this knowledge will contribute to the ability of individuals, institutions, and communities within the region to engage and address contemporary issues of global, sustainable environmental policymaking.