Movements and Migrations: Sustainability and Change in Religion and Culture.

Fall 2016
Winter 2017
Spring 2017
OlympiaStudy Abroad
Olympia +
study abroad option
Class Size: 50
25% Reserved for Freshmen
Credits per quarter
Variable Credit Options Available

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Cultures are always changing; traditions persist, evolve and take on new shapes over time.

In this program, we will look at religious and cultural movements in South Asia and the Middle East. We will look at the roots of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism and ways they have traveled and changed over time. We will also explore the ways that some of their principles and lived practices inform sustainability and justice movements today. Yoga, for example, is a transnational phenomenon with roots in some of the same texts and traditions that have given rise to Hinduism. Buddhism, also arising in South Asia, has made its own popularized journeys around the world. Global understandings of Islam range from transnational Sufi movements to fearsome groups such as ISIS to Islamophobia. All of these traditions offer lessons for living respectfully with the natural world, and for overcoming injustices and inequality. 

Focusing on South Asia and the Middle East, we will explore differing religious and cultural world views on the environment and humans’ place within it as well as how religious traditions interact with politics on the ground. We will look at both historical foundations and contemporary lived cultural and religious traditions.  In South Asia, we’ll examine cultures in the Himalayan region as warming temperatures melt critical glaciers and multiple dams potentially increase the risk of earthquakes. We will explore development models for rural communities in India and Nepal, focusing on food and forests. These every day issues are crosscut by religious practices and social movements often rest on the foundations of religious principles. In the Middle East, we will explore ways that orthodoxy in Islam gets shaped and reshaped. As we explore how Islam and political Islam are lived and changed, we uncover the paradox that orthodoxy, which implies immovability and constancy, undergoes movements and migrations of its own. 

Migrations of peoples, materials, and ideas have been around for millennia, often producing vibrant practices based on adaptation and innovation. Yet colonization and capitalist globalization have also contributed to the systematic destruction of indigenous and non-Western cultures, inciting various forms of resistance. How do transnational relationships affect the integrity, identity, and sustainability of local communities? How do religion and culture serve to sustain or separate communities in a world of mass migrations due to political, economic, and environmental disruptions?

Through the lenses of religious studies, cultural anthropology, and sustainability studies, we will explore tensions between movement, migration, and rootedness, the familiar and unfamiliar, and how movements for justice are conditioned by both individual and systemic change. We will draw on yoga, both as an example of cultural exchange that has fueled debates about authenticity and appropriation, and as a practice of sustainability from the inside out. In fall quarter, our intentional learning community will build theoretical foundations and develop skills in cultural analysis through critical reading, expository writing, ethnographic methods, and seminar discussions. Students will have options for reflective work through yogic practices. In the winter, some students will travel to Nepal to think on the ground about issues of sustainability, religion, boundaries, biomigration, natural disasters and population shifts. Other students will develop local projects on topics of their choice related to program themes. Students can also participate in a religious module focused on studying notions of “God” in different religious traditions.  Spring quarter students will continue to develop projects, with options for local internships and community partnerships, as we continue with weekly thematic explorations. Through the use of workshops, students will develop proficiencies in ethnographic methods, sustainability practices, yoga, and writing.

Study abroad:

Students have the option to spend four weeks in Nepal, with a cost of approximately $3,200 (approximately $1,400 for airfare and $1,800 for room, board, and other expenses). A $200 deposit is due mid-fall quarter. Students interested in scholarship support for study abroad should review the Gilman Scholarship site for eligibility, , and contact Michael Clifthorne in the Office of International Programs for more scholarship information.  Applications should be started in summer. For details on study abroad, visit or contact Michael Clifthorne at .

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in:

sustainability studies, anthropology, international studies, religious studies, community development and gender studies.


Credits per quarter
Variable Credit Options Available

Variable Credit Options:

12-credit option available for students enrolled in language studies.

Online learning:
  • Enhanced Online Learning - This offering requires access to web-based tools, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.

$200 per quarter for field trips and supplies.

Class Standing: Freshman–Senior
Class Size: 50
25% Reserved for Freshmen

Scheduled for: Day

Advertised schedule:

First spring class meeting: Tuesday, April 4 at 9:30am (Sem II E2109)

Located in: Olympia

2016-03-31Title changed (formerly Movements and Migrations: Religion, Culture, and Sustainability in a Transnational World). Description has been updated.