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Intergenerational Transmission of Buddhism among Ladakhi and Tibetan Youth in India

Elizabeth Williams-Ørberg (Ph.D. candidate, Section for Anthropology)

This Ph.D. project brings attention to the globality of Buddhism as a lived, experiential reality of youth in an historically Buddhist South Asian location.  Focusing on the everyday negotiation of religion and identification among diasporic Tibetan and indigenous Ladakhi Buddhist youth, this study will examine the multiple and complex challenges of transmission and cultural translation of Buddhism amid processes of globalization and social change in contemporary India. In these communities, Tibetan Buddhism is widely considered to be threatened by an apparent lack of interest among youth exemplified by their engagement with Western and Indian popular culture.  Competing frames of identification in the lived reality of youth in contemporary Tibetan Buddhist communities, as well as economic liberalization and social change in India are believed by some to mandate a “modernization” of Buddhist practices and institutions, similar to earlier reform movements elsewhere in Asia. This study will examine how such reforms are being implemented, and how competing demands, expectations and projects are perceived and negotiated by Buddhist youth in Ladakh.

Drawing on previous study of religion, Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, and South Asian studies, including extensive fieldwork among youth in India, Williams-Ørberg will conduct fieldwork for one year in and around Leh, the capital of Ladakh, to gather ethnographic data through participant observation, formal and informal interviews and supplementary popular media sources. By focusing on the daily social and religious practices of young Buddhist men and women, the study will contribute to the existing literature and ongoing discussions of Buddhism and modernity, religion and globalisation, and the meaning of Buddhism for modern Asian subjectivities.