Intersection of religion, nature and culture in the Himalayas

What is our place in nature? Can we completely detach ourselves from our environment, take ourselves out of the box? In some mountain regions, nature narratives have a significant influence on the actions of local people and decision-makers. In addition, such narratives influence and shape strong human-nature relationships.

Long-term project, since 2017.

The word “nature” is not innocent: it is the marker of a civilization devoted to exploiting territories on a massive scale as if they were just inert matter, and to sanctifying small spaces dedicated to recreation, sporting activities or spiritual replenishment – all more impoverished attitudes towards the living world than one would have liked. - Baptiste Morizot on the western concept of nature

In the Indian state of Sikkim in the eastern Himalayas, for example, people have a strong relationship with nature and see themselves as part of the environment, not as its masters.

Sikkim was a Buddhist kingdom in the eastern Himalayas that became an Indian state in 1975. Today it is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual state with a special relationship with nature. Sikkim is strongly influenced by Tibetan Buddhism. However, there has never been a complete change of faith. Rather, pre-existing nature-based concepts and beliefs have merged with Buddhism. In Sikkim, every natural landmark, such as mountains, lakes or rocks, is believed to be inhabited by supernatural beings. They ensure that the people and the land are well. When these beings get angry, they send wild animals or natural disasters, wild animals or natural disasters. This is to remind people not to upset them. them. Religious rites are performed to keep the balance and to please these supernatural beings. Nature, culture and religion are therefore closely intertwined in Sikkim.

But is the relationship between man and nature always so simple and free of conflict? Sikkim is prone to to natural disasters such as landslides, earthquakes and flash floods. Communities and individual lives have been transformed by recent developments, including anthropogenic climate change and dam construction. Recent decades have seen confrontations between people trying to protect their sacred environment and politicians and investors. The challenge has been to reconcile traditional, religious and cultural issues with economic and political interests.

  • 2024: Religious Connections, Economic Obstacles and Personal Fates: Contextualizing the Roles of Bridges in Sikkim (Himalayas), in Traditional Neighbors, Different Modernities: Bhutan, Sikkim and the Mon Region, ed. by Seiji Kumagai, Miguel Álvarez Ortega, Anna Balikci-Denjonpa and Françoise Pommaret, Trans Pacific Press.
  • 2021: Provider and Destroyer of Life: Legendary and Historical Buddhist Perspectives on Water and Its Socio-Cultural Significance in Sikkim, Bulletin of Tibetology 52 (1), pp. 59-74.
  • 2021: Better than any Doctor. Buddhist Perspectives on Hot Springs in Sikkim, Himalayas. Etnološka tribina, 51 (44), pp. 54-70, DOI 10.15378/1848-9540.2021.44.03.
  • 2021: Risk perception of climate change and natural hazards in global mountain regions: A critical review, Stefan Schneiderbauer, Paola Fontanella Pisa, Jess L. Delves, Lydia Pedoth, Samuel Rufat, Marlene Erschbamer, Thomas Thaler, Fabio Carnelli, Sergio Granados-Chahin, Science of the Total Environment 784, DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.146957.
  • 2019: Taming of supernatural entities and animal sacrifice. The synthesis of Tibetan Buddhism and local shamanistic traditions in Northern Sikkim (India), Études mongoles et sibériennes, centrasiatiques et tibétaines [Online], 50 | 2019, DOI 10.4000/emscat.3915.
  • 10/2022: Mountain narratives and human-nature relations in Sikkimese Himalayas, Second Global Mountain Sustainability Forum (GMS), organized by GLOMOS and the Center for Advanced Studies of Eurac Research.
  • 07/2019: Provider and Destroyer of Life: Rituals, Myths, and Significance of Water in Sikkim, a Tibetan influenced Indian state in the Himalaya, Paris, Fifteenth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies (IATS).
  • 06/2019: Cultural and religious significance of hot springs in Buddhist influenced societies in the Himalayas, University College Cork, conference “Religion, Water, Climate: Changing Cultures and Landscapes”, International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture (ISSRNC).
  • 04/2017: Sacred landscape and the creation of a pilgrimage site: The Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim (India), The New School, New York, conference “Mountains and Sacred Landscapes”, International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture (ISSRNC).
  • 03/2017: Taming of Demons and Animal Sacrifice: The Synthesis of Buddhism and Shamanistic Traditions in Northern Sikkim, LMU Munich, workshop “Evolving through Context: The Transformation of Buddhism(s) and their Legitimation(s)”, Doctoral Program in Buddhist Studies.