Fall 2016: UVA in Bhutan



Fall 2016: UVA in Bhutan

Himalayan Experiential Encounters: Historical, Anthropological, and Contemplative Explorations in Bhutan

Sponsored by Contemplative Sciences Center and Tibet Center 

July 28 – December 3, 2016

This program invites students to participate in the unique cultural and mountainous environment of Thimphu, Bhutan and the wider countryside through experiential education centered on the dynamics of cultural exchange, contemplation, and participatory digital ethnography. Students will explore Himalayan culture and environment for a fall semester through excursions to sites of historic and contemporary importance for Bhutanese throughout the Thimphu Valley and the wider region. This will be combined with coursework, language study, contemplation, and multi-media projects conducted in collaboration with local partners. Students can optionally study Dzongkha, the language of Bhutan.  

This program is open to all 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year undergraduates.  Deadline to apply for this program is April 10th.  

Program Objectives
This program explores the theme of cultural contact and exchange by integrating three approaches to Bhutan’s material and expressive forms: 1) studying the intercultural history and contemporary dynamics of the region through coursework that combines cultural-historical and anthropological perspectives, 2) engaging with local peoples through language training in Dzongkha and through guided excursions and ethnographic projects that require local-level participation and exchange facilitated through creative digital ethnographic approaches, and 3) reflecting on both the processes of cultural contact and the role of the student in those processes through modes of contemplative learning that have parallels with traditions of learning in Bhutan.
Capstone, multimedia student projects integrating those three approaches will also contribute to UVA’s long-term efforts to document the rich cultural heritage of Himalayan peoples in both the Tibetan and Himalayan Library and Contemplative Sciences Center, thereby interweaving learning with research programs.
The Himalayan region has since antiquity been marked by intensive cultural contact and exchange between various states. Nestled between the Tibetan Autonomous Region in China and the western provinces of India, the mountainous Kingdom of Bhutan for centuries was an independent crossroads of culture, religion, politics, and trade across the region’s mountainous terrain. Today, as Bhutan’s capital and largest city, Thimphu is home to a population of roughly 80,000 residents, representing a blend of ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious identities, practices, and sensibilities. Cultural traditions in Bhutan are vibrant in many ways, and range from public religious ceremonies and dances to ancient and modern temples, reliquaries, monasteries, and pilgrimage sites – all set against the backdrop of the highest mountain range in the world! Bhutanese culture, while dominated by Vajrayana Buddhist symbols and practices is also a unique modern meeting place of Indian and Tibetan cultural and religious traditions.
Program Schedule
Fall 2016: Bhutan Schedule
Course Information
Students who successfully complete the program’s five courses will earn 15 credits in the College of Arts and Sciences. The Beginning Dzongkha course is optional. Courses include the following:
2016 Fall: Bhutan: RELB 2559 Cultural History of Bhutan and the Himalayas
2016 Fall: Bhutan: RELB 2559/ANTH 3550 Sensory Ethnography of Bhutanese Culture
2016 Fall: Bhutan: RELB 2559 Contemplation in Theory and Practice
2016 Fall: Bhutan: RELB 3559 Integrative Projects
2016 Fall: Bhutan: DZON 1559 Beginning Dzongkha
Upcoming Informaiton Sessions 
Tuesday, April 5 12-1250 pm Gibson 441 (South Lawn)
Tuesday, April 5 5- 6 pm Nau 342 (South Lawn)
Wednesday, April 6: 5:30-630 pm Nau 342 (South Lawn)
Application Process
Application for this program can be found here.  If accepted to this program, you must commit to or decline participation by April 15, 2016.  Students must arrive in Bhutan on July 28, which will require departure from the US on July 26, with an overnight in Singapore or Bangkok.  Students must view and complete the online Education Abroad Workshop prior to starting the UVA Study Abroad application. Please refer to the Education Abroad Workshop homepage for more information.
Inquiries about the program can be sent to:
Program Director
David Germano, is professor of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies at the University of Virginia. UVa's Tibetan Studies and Buddhist Studies program are amongst the largest in the West. In 2000, he founded the Tibetan and Himalayan Library (, one of the world's largest digital initiatives building collaborative knowledge on the region. He is the founding director of the Tibet Center (, which houses an extensive set of foreign academic operations in Tibet and Bhutan, and directs UVa’s Contemplative Sciences Center ( to explore learning, research, and engagement initiatives across disciplines and schools.
Ana Cristina O. Lopes is an anthropologist with a PhD from the University of Sao Paulo and a M.A. in Buddhist Studies from Columbia University. Specialized in the fields of anthropology of expressive forms, visual anthropology and globalization, she recently held appointments as visiting scholar at Center for the Study of World Religions (Harvard University) and at the Department of Performance Studies (Tisch School – New York University). Ana Cristina is the author of Tibetan Buddhism in Diaspora: Cultural Re-signification in Practice and Institutions (Routledge: 2015).
James D. Gentry is a scholar of Tibetan religion, culture, and society. In his PhD dissertation completed at Harvard University he studied the roles of sacred objects, such as relics, amulets, and other sacra, in the lives of Tibetan Buddhists. James’s research has led him to live in the Himalayan foothills of Nepal, Tibet, China, and India for nearly eight years. He currently works as a visiting lecturer at Kathmandu University's Center for Buddhist Studies.