Himalayan Studies


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Where Gross National Happiness is the Measure for Development

In Bhutan—a Himalayan country with towering mountains, lush forests, and a distinct cultural heritage—progress is measured not just by economic growth, but also through good governance, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation. Sustainable management of natural resources—including soil, water, biodiversity, and minerals—is critical for Bhutan, as these resources are fundamental to the national identity, as well as the local and national economies. Through their research, students contribute to the advancement of SFS’ joint research agenda with the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE) in areas including sustainable forestry, watershed management, and rural development.

  • Semester Programs

    Himalayan Environment and Society in Transition


    In Bhutan, a Himalayan country characterized by towering mountains, lush forests, and a unique cultural heritage, progress and development is evaluated on the basis of cultural preservation and environmental conservation rather than purely economic achievements. Student research will focus on enhancing the condition of forest, river, and mountain ecosystems while balancing the processes of modernization and cultural preservation. *Program will be offered in fall semesters only.

  • Summer Programs

    Eastern Himalayan Forests and Rural Livelihoods


    Traveling throughout Bhutan, students learn about culture and history, religious traditions, environmental issues, and conservation policies. Students explore the role environmental services and natural resources play in rural livelihood and national development. Students conduct research on Bhutan’s primary environmental concerns, including sustainable forestry, watershed management, and rural development.

A full long-term strategic research plan is under development for our program in Bhutan. The SFS program curriculum addresses the four pillars of the development plan of the Royal Government of Bhutan: preservation and promotion of culture; good governance; environmental sustainability; and sustainable and equitable socioeconomic development. Within that broad framework, we collaborate closely with the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE)—our partner in Bhutan—to create a research agenda that aligns with specific priority areas to conduct applied and basic research in natural resource management, effectiveness of biological corridors, and species conservation.

The main question that drives our curriculum and research in Bhutan is: How can Bhutan secure its culture, biodiversity, and environment in the face of transition?.


Modernization is reaching the furthest corners of this small country, with a strong focus on rural electrification, telecommunications, and road access. While a majority of people still reside in rural areas, rural to urban migration is on the rise. These processes are changing both rural and urban landscapes, and access to and use of natural resources including land, water, and forests. Food security is a significant issue with changing agricultural and livestock practices. People’s relationships, attitudes, and values with the environment are changing, which in turn affects policies and the institutions that set, monitor, and enforce them. Encounters between wildlife, livestock, and humans create problems that threaten rural livelihood and well-being. Being a mountainous country, Bhutan is also highly vulnerable to problems related to climate change and natural disasters.

Research Direction

The Royal Government of Bhutan is attempting to build and support democratic and effective institutions, and to prepare for and mitigate the social and environmental impacts of modernization and natural disasters alike. To assist our partner in addressing some of these problems, we will focus our research in three core areas:

  • People’s relationship with nature
  • Democratization, governance, rural development
  • Conservation and resource management


Cross-cutting themes in the curriculum that will support the research agenda include climate change, vulnerabilities, cultural values, water resources, and Buddhism and environment.

Our Partner in Bhutan

Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE) is a governmental institution founded in 2008 and housed within the Royal Government of Bhutan’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, whose mandate is to provide a center for research, policy dialogue, and training on issues related to environmental conservation.

Building on five years of collaboration, SFS and UWICE partnered to provide students with a field-based environmental studies semester program to explore the ecological, societal, and economic aspects of critical environmental issues in Bhutan. The program is delivered by SFS faculty and an international team of scientists, including leading Bhutanese experts in conservation and resource management. The research that SFS students conduct as part of this program is closely aligned with the research priorities of UWICE and the Bhutanese government. The sharing of research data and information takes place through community meetings, technical presentations, a research symposium, and presentations to government officials.

While in Bhutan, students learn about the intricate relationship between nature and Buddhism, religion and environment. By attending festivals, engaging in community service, and participating in local sporting events, students further enhance their cultural understanding as well as becoming active members of the community. Additionally, SFS students and the Bhutanese trainees at UWICE have many opportunities to interact and learn from each other.