ERSEHEveryday Religion and Sustainable Environments in the Himalaya was a multi-year initiative that ICI ran from 2010-2013, which endeavored to uncover new dimensions to the current discourse on global environmental policy.

The project aimed to create an enabling environment for knowledge-sharing and production on the complex role of religion with particular emphasis on sustainable environmental issues. Given the diversity of traditions and practices within the region, the Himalaya serves as an ideal laboratory and a focal point for the current discussion on climate change.

In providing a platform for scholars and practitioners to engage in interdisciplinary critical inquiry and teaching, the initiative was also a vehicle for action. Findings from fieldwork and applied research were disseminated through published reports, public programs and international conferences in the United States, India, China, and other countries in the region. The final conference, Everyday Religion and Sustainable Environments in the Himalaya Conference, took places March 7-8, 2013 [see video below].

Beyond the academic enterprise, the availability of this knowledge on the ground has contributed to the ability of individuals, institutions, and communities within the region to engage and address contemporary issues of sustainable environmental policy-making. The ERSEH project helped develop a platform for uncovering and better understanding the complexity of transboundary, mutually-influential relationships between everyday religion—shaped by diverse socio-cultural beliefs, values, ritual practices—and the environment. One of the key features of the initiative was that everyday religion is understood not only as an ethical imperative for shaping policy, but as a necessary condition for understanding the environment and conceptualizing sustainability.

The initiative also sought to augment existing scholarship by identifying gaps and limitations, examining the relationship between religion and environment from an interdisciplinary lens, and engaging local, national and international audiences. As part of that several special issue journals are now in publication, and will be linked to here once available.


ERSEH scholar roundtable

Scholarly roundtable at the ERSEH conference in New York City.

We are now building on the success of the ERSEH with the launch of a second multi-year initiative expanding this focus on religion and ecology in the Himalaya, known as the Sacred Himalaya Initiative. You can learn more about this new initiative by clicking here.

The following slideshow captures many of the presentations during the first day of the ERSEH conference.

Want to know more about what scholars were discussing at the conference, or watch the many paper presentations and engaging discussions about ongoing research in the Himalaya? No problem. Watch the entire two-day Everyday Religion and Sustainable Environments in the Himalaya (ERSEH) conference at The New School from our YouTube channel. If you are looking for specific presenters or topics, view the full conference schedule and presentation link below.

View Conference Details

Day 1: Thursday,March7

9:00 AM – 9:15 AM     Welcome Remarks

David Van Zandt, President, The New School

Ashok Gurung, Senior Director, India China Institute

Toby Volkman, Director of Policy Initiatives and Secretary, Henry Luce Foundation


9:15 AM – 12:00 PM     Session I: ERSEH Research Papers

Chair: Mark Turin, Program Director, Yale Himalaya Initiative; Director, Digital Himalaya Project, Cambridge and Yale

  • Paper 1: “Water Connection: Everyday Religion and Environment in The Kathmandu Valley” Mukta Singh Lama, Professor, Sociology/Anthropology, Tribhuvan University, Nepal; Laxmi Shova Shakya, Research Fellow of Harka Gurung Research Fellowship, Nepal
  • Paper 2: “Everyday Religion and Sustainable Environments in the Himalaya – Shangri-la” Li Bo, Secretary General, Friends of Nature, China, ICI Fellow
  • Paper 3: “De-Mystifying ‘Choko Pani’ as the Interface between Society, Religion, and Environmentin Darjeeling and Sikkim” Mahendra Lama, Professor, South Asian Economies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, ICI Fellow; Roshan Rai, Research Associate for Prerna, India
  • Paper 4: “Everyday Religion in Kangding: The Natural, Social and Religious Life of Water and the Politics of Production” Nyimatashi, Associate Professor, Anthropology Southwest University for Nationalities, China; Liu Yong, Professor, Southwest University for Nationalities, China
  • Paper 5: “Beyond Contradiction: Sacred Waters, Relational Ecologies, and the Dialogism of Everyday Religion” Georgina Drew, ICI Postdoctoral Fellow, The New School


Anne Rademacher, Assistant Professor, Metropolitan Studies and Environmental Studies, Director,Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University

Pankaj Jain, Assistant Professor, Anthropology and Philosophy and Religious Studies,University of North Texas

Mary Evelyn Tucker, Senior Lecturer and Research Scholar, Yale University

Discussion: Open Floor


1:30 PM- 3:15 PM    Session II: ERSEH Concepts and Debates

Chair: David Holmberg, Professor, Anthropology and Asia Studies, Cornell University

  • Paper 6: “Where Religion Lives: A Framework for Studying Religion and Sustainable Environments” Mark Larrimore, Associate Professor, Religious Studies, The New School
  • Paper 7: “Must we mean what we do when it comes to sustainability: What the Himalayas teach consumer capitalists about material practices” Cameron Tonkinwise, Director, Design Studies, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Paper8: “General and Specific Issues for Discussing Everyday Religion and Sustainable Environments in the Himalaya” Thomas Mathew, Writer and Consultant, India China Institute, The New School


David Germano, Professor, Tibetan Studies, University of Virginia

Mary Cameron, President, Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies, Professor,Anthropology, Florida Atlantic University

Bron Taylor, Professor, Religious Studies, University of Florida

Discussion: Open Floor


3:30 PM – 5:30 PM      Session III: Identity, Materiality, and Health

Chair: Charles Ramble, Director of Studies, Tibetan History and Philology, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris

  • Paper 9: “The Punya and Papof Pigeons: Everyday Religion, Material Culture,and Public Health in Urban Kathmandu” Todd Lewis, Professor, World Religions, College of the Holy Cross
  • Paper 10: “Environmental Imaginaries of Pollution: Waste Management Challenges in Bhutan” Elizabeth Alison, Assistant Professor, Ecology and Religion, California Institute of Integral Studies
  • Paper11: “Exchange andRelationship with theEnvironment in Tibet: Reflections on TreasureRevelation and its Role inContemporary Tibetan Buddhist” Antonio Terrone, Lecturer, Religious Studies, Northwestern University


Kurtis Schaeffer, Professor, Religious Studies, University of Virginia

Andrew Quintman, Assistant Professor, Religious Studies, Yale University

Discussion: Open Floor


Day 2: Friday, March 8

10:00 AM – 12:00 PM     Session IV: Practice in Sacred Landscapes

Chair: Kamaljit Bawa, Professor, Biology, University of Massachusetts

  • Paper 12: “Deities Bring Foreigners to See Mount Everest: Tourism, Everyday Buddhism, and Environmental Sustainability in the World’s Highest Ecosystem” Jeremy Spoon, Assistant Professor, Anthropology, Portland State University; Research Associate, The Mountain Institute
  • Paper 13: “Sentience of the Earth: Eco-Buddhist Mandalizing of Dwelling Place in Amdo” Dan Smyer Yu, Research Group Leader, Religious Diversity, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity
  • Paper 14:“The Sacred and the Material:Everyday Choices in Resource Landscape in the Indian Himalayas” Samuel Thomas, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, India


Tsering Shakya, Canada Research Chair, Religion and Contemporary Society in Asia, University of British Columbia

Kathryn March, Professor, Anthropology, Cornell University

Discussion: Open Floor


1:30 PM – 3:30 PM      Session V: ERSEH: Connections, Provocations, and Policy Implications

Roundtable Discussion: Co-Chair: Ashok Gurung, Senior Director, India China Institute


  • Anil Chitrakar, Chairperson, Himalayan Climate Initiative, Nepal
  • Eklabya Sharma, Director, Programme Operations, ICIMOD, Nepal
  • Li Bo, ICI Fellow, Friends of Nature Board Member, China
  • Mahendra Lama, Professor, South Asian Economies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, ICI Fellow
  • Jeremy Spoon,Assistant Professor, Anthropology, Portland State University; Research Associate,
  • TheMountainInstitute3:30 PM – 4:00 PM     Closing Remarks:
  • Georgina Drew, Postdoctoral Fellow, India China Institute
  • Ashok Gurung, Senior Director, India China Institute



Initiative Supported by:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email