Working group investigates Himalayan region

NEPAL
Photo by Sara Schneiderman.

Mark Turin wants to unite professors and students across all disciplines to keep endangered Himalayan languages and culture alive.

Turin, a research scientist at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies, is coordinating the Himalayan Working Group at Yale alongside Sara Shneiderman, a professor in the Anthropology Department. The project seeks to build a relationship between researchers and students in the Himalayas with the aim of investigating the biodiversity and cultural diversity of the region. The project, which envisions affecting a broad range of Himalayan issues, involves disparate Yale disciplines including the Religious Studies Department and the School of Forestry and Environment Studies.

The lack of infrastructure in the Himalayan region, the highly mountainous terrain located along the borders of India, China, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan, frustrates efforts to document rare languages and cultures, Turin said, so the working group will “act as a conduit for information to flow”.

As it stands now, Turin said, the working group’s main goal will be to act as a “conduit” between individuals and groups in the Himalayan region. Turin said that the infrastructure in the Himalayan region is so poor that communication is nearly impossible without external aid.

”It’s usually easier for researchers from Northern India to come to a conference at Yale than it is for them to travel to see each other in the area,” Turin said.

Turin said students are already becoming involved with the project, such as the Nepali Student Association which has been attending meeting with the working group hosting speakers on relevant topics.

Kanchan Shrestha GRD ’12, a Nepali member of the Nepali Student Association, said she feels that the working group and her organization are a good fit for each other. She added that Shneiderman, who serves as a faculty sponsor for the association, has facilitated cooperation.

Mingyuan Song ’14, another member of the association, said he is interested in the working group due to his academic interests in the region, including a visit to the Himalayas last summer.

“This region is of great importance to Asia and the world if you think about the Tibetan sovereignty controversy, the modern implications of Buddhism, sustainable development, natural resources, Himalaya glaciers and climate change, and transnational politics between China and India,” Song said.

After arriving at Yale in August 2011, Turin and Shneiderman, who are husband and wife, noticed that a number of Yale academic programs were studying the Himalayan region, but weren’t communicating among themselves, Turin said.

“We want people across Yale talking across interdisciplinary boundaries,” Shneiderman said. “Basically, you get somebody from social sciences and religious studies and someone looking at climate change, and you get them working together.”

The Himalayan Working Group at Yale, which Turin said isn’t fully a University “initiative” yet due to lack of official funds, consists of a coalition of students and faculty from around the Yale community with a focus on protecting the Himalayan region. Turin said he thinks it will develop very quickly due to the opportunities for cooperation across departments.

The diversity of the Himalayan region mandates interdisciplinary cooperation, Turin said, because its rare cultures and unique wildlife are in danger of extinction. Turin added that one-fifth of the world’s languages originated in the Himalayan region.

One way the working group is trying to bring the Yale community together is through an online database of interested persons, Turin said. Pragyajan Rai GRD ’12, the database’s facilitator, said he has been working to compile names and information into himalaya.yale.edu, a new website for the working group that recently received the University’s go-ahead to be connected to the main Yale web page. Rai said this resource will help the Yale community connect and share their ideas on the Himalayan region, complementing the working group’s monthly seminars and meetings.

The Himalayan mountain range is home to eight of the 14 highest mountains in the world, including Mount Everest, whose 29,029-foot summit is the highest point on Earth.

Corrections and clarifications: Nov. 12

Due to errors in the editing process, an earlier version of this article contained numerous factual errors. It stated that Mark Turin is an anthropology professor, when he is in fact a research scientist at the MacMillan Center. In addition, the article misstated the scope of the Himalayan Working Group’s work. It is focusing its efforts in the area along the borders of India, China, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan, not just that of India and China. Further, the article misquoted Shneiderman as referring to “social finances” instead of to “social sciences.” The article misspelled one instance of Shneiderman’s last name. It also misstated the involvement of the Global Health Leadership Initiative in the Himalayas Working Group. GLHI is not currently involved in the project. Further, the article mischaracterized the extent of the Himalayan Working Group’s involvement in the region. An earlier headline for this article described the Himalayas Working Group as a “Nepal network” when its work is in fact not limited to Nepal but extends to other countries in the region.

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