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Buddhism, Diplomacy, and Travel: Identity- and Nation-Building in Bhutan

Project description

Tracing Bhutan’s identity and historical role in South and East Asia

Since the 1800s, the intense engagement of Bhutanese Buddhist masters in politics has been a fundamental characteristic of Bhutan’s diplomatic relations with Tibet and the British Raj. The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions BhutldBuddh project investigates Bhutan’s identity- and nation-building by analysing a thus far untranslated collection of Bhutanese and Tibetan textual sources. Findings will shed light on Bhutan’s religious and political history since the 1800s that led to today’s sustainable development model of Gross National Happiness (GNH), a holistic approach to implementing the population’s happiness and well-being. For the first time, this project will systematically address Bhutan’s historical role in connecting South Asia, the British Raj and East Asia from the Bhutanese perspective.


This research project is an investigation of identity- and nation-building in eighteenth-century Bhutan with a particular focus on the agency of Buddhist masters as important diplomats and Bhutan's entangled history with Tibet. This will enable a novel understanding of Bhutan's religious and political history, particularly its Buddhism-induced development model of Gross National Happiness (GNH) that has not yet received systematic historical analysis in religious studies in Europe despite its global popularity as an example of alternative sustainable economic models. Furthermore, for the first time, Bhutan's historical role in linking South Asia, the British Raj, and East Asia will be systematically addressed. The research output will significantly advance both fields - that of Tibetology and religious studies. The innovative research design combines historical-philological methods by analyzing a thus far untranslated corpus of Bhutanese/Tibetan primary sources with a theoretical framework from religious studies focusing on identity and social differentiation. Therefore, the project is in its methodology, output, and impact inter-disciplinary. The researcher will produce a draft for a single monograph publication for habilitation in Germany. The proposed project involves as the researcher a German Tibetologist trained in Germany, Canada, India, and Bhutan reintegrating to Germany to work with a religious/Buddhist studies scholar at Leipzig University. This will enable substantial training for the researcher in religious studies and impactful two-way knowledge exchange between the researcher and the host institution due to the international experience of the researcher. An intersectional secondment at The British Library Endangered Archives Programme (London) will provide further Tibetological training in (digital) archival work, palaeography, and codicology, and produce globally accessible research data about this digitized Bhutanese/Tibetan primary source corpus.


Net EU contribution
€ 189 687,36
Ritterstrasse 26
04109 Leipzig

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Sachsen Leipzig Leipzig
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00

Partners (1)