||Gaden Relief Projects
|Helping to preserve
Tibetan culture in India, Mongolia and Tibet
Zangskar Project Coordinator
Kim Gutschow has coordinated the Zangskar Project at Gaden Relief since 1991 and has been working
in Zangskar since 1989. She visited the region every year between 1989 and 2002 and
every few years since. Her most recent reports from 2009 and 2006 and her earlier letters to sponsors
are available here.
Kim currently serves as a Lecturer of Religion at Williams College. Her lengthy fieldwork
on the nuns and nunneries of Zangskar was the subject of an award-winning ethnography,
Being a Buddhist Nun. Kim first began
living at Karsha nunnery while doing her fieldwork for a PhD in Anthropology at Harvard University where she
studied classical Tibetan with Oxford don Michael Aris. She speaks fluent Ladakhi and Zangskari dialects,
necessary when traveling on foot throughout the length of breadth of Zangskar a region slightly larger than
Delaware transected by the greater and lesser Himalayan ranges. She also worked on an award winning documentary
film for the Discovery Channel about the children of Zangskar called Behind the Ice Wall.
Her research took her on foot through each of Zangskar's valleys and its many nunneries, and
three winters spent staying at Karsha nunnery and elsewhere in Zangskar that solidified what has now become a two
decade old relationship with Zangskar. Kim traveled to the region with her two year-old twins and husband in
2006, and again in 2009, after the birth of a daughter Yeshe, who is named after the founding nun of Karsha nunnery
and one of Kim's major Buddhist teachers, all of whom are from Zangskar.
Kim notes that both villagers and nuns were initially surprised that she wanted to live and
study with nuns. Even years later, villagers and monks would argue that she would get a 'better' understanding of
Buddhism from monks than from nuns. Much of Kim's scholarly work as well as her work with Gaden Relief has
been committed to dispelling this common assumption. Kim finds that the view of Buddhism from the bottom up
rather than the top down is as productive if not more productive, given that so much of the scholarly and popular
view of Buddhism is based on fieldwork and literary analysis of male monks rather than the female voices,
institutions, and practices that challenge the more normative patriarchal model of Buddhism. While monasteries
may have larger endowments and more imposing physical institutions, these are hardly qualifications for making them
'better Buddhists'. Kim believes that the poverty of nuns and laypeople does necessarily impoverish their
Buddhist discipline or Buddhist practice but it makes their dedication all the more remarkable.
While Kim still emphasizes the need for passive solar buildings, greenhouses, and support for
ritual and scholarly activities, her more recent focus at Gaden include women's health, water supply and delivery
systems, and a more holistic appreciation of the relationship between health, economics, and livelihood for
individuals and communities in Zangskar.
Currently, Kim is Professor at the Anthropology of Public Health Center for Modern Indian Studies, Goettingen University, Germany, and Lecturer in Religion and Anthropology/Sociology at Williams College in Massachusetts.
Chuchikjall and the Zangskari Nunneries
Here are some of Kim Gutschow's essays on the life
of Zangskari nuns:
The Women Who Refuse to Be Exchanged (PDF)
Yeshe's Tibetan Pilgrimage and the Founding of a Himalayan Nunnery (PDF)
The Delusion of Gender and Renunciation in Buddhist Kashmir (PDF)
The Politics of Being Buddhist in Zangskar: Partition and Today (PDF)
How Buddhist Renunciation Produces Difference (PDF)
What Makes a Nun? Apprenticeship and Ritual Passage in Zangskar, North India (PDF)