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.
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)
For more information on Kim Gutschow’s research work in Zangskar, please see her book, Being a Buddhist Nun: The Struggle for Enlightenment in the Himalayas, published by the Harvard University Press.
If you wish to contact Dr. Gutschow, please email her firstname.lastname@example.org.