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.
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.
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.
Monks Preparing for Final Exams, Tango Monastery
Students will stay on campus with local students at the Royal College of Thimphu, except for during group excursions, when they will stay in hotels, guesthouses, teahouses, or tents. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner will be provided daily at the college dining hall. The campus of Royal Thimphu College will be the site for all classes and other program meetings and events.
Royal Thimphu College
Himalayan Buddhism, Culture, and Contemplation:
Historical, Anthropological, and Contemplative Explorations in Bhutan
Children at the Annual Paro Festival
Attend an info session to learn more about the program and application process!
Tuesday, March 21, 5pm in Nau 342
2017 Fall: Bhutan Program Schedule
This program is open to all 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year undergraduates. 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:
2017 Fall: Bhutan: RELB 2559 Cultural History of Bhutan and the Himalayas
2017 Fall: Bhutan: RELB 2559/ANTH 3550 Sensory Ethnography of Bhutan and the Himalayas
2017 Fall: Bhutan: RELB 2559 Contemplation in Theory and Practice
2017 Fall: Bhutan: RELB 3559 Integrative Projects
2017 Fall: Bhutan: DZON 1559 Beginning Dzongkha
The program costs and payment schedule are listed under the "Budget Sheets" link at the top of this page.
NOTE: Virginia residents who are UVA degree-seeking students in the College of Arts & Sciences will receive a $3,000 credit toward the program cost posted to their SIS account.
The University of Virginia believes in providing reasonable accommodations for students with documented disabilities on an individual and flexible basis. If you believe that you would require adjustments in order to fully participate in this program, please contact the Student Disability Access Center at 434-243-5180 as early as possible in order to begin this dialogue.
Passport and Visa Information
All participants will need a valid passport in order to participate in the program. Students must ensure that their passport is valid at least six months past the program return date. All participants will need a visa. International students should meet with their International Student Advisor and Education Abroad Advisor in the International Studies Office as part of the application process.
Tashi Yangtse, Eastern Bhutan
Inquiries about the program can be sent to: email@example.com.
David Germano, firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 (www.thlib.org), one of the world's largest digital initiatives building collaborative knowledge on the region. He is the founding director of the Tibet Center (www.uvatibetcenter.org), which houses an extensive set of foreign academic operations in Tibet and Bhutan, and directs UVa’s Contemplative Sciences Center (www.uvacontemplation.org) 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.