The project "Trans-Border Religion: Re-composing Limbu rituals in the Nepal–Sikkim borderlands" (P 29805; 11/2016-10/2020) is lead by Dr. Mélanie Vandenhelsken who is also the principal investigator. It focuses on the role of the international Indo-Nepalese border on present-day’s re-composition of religious ideas and practices amongst Limbus men and women. The first hypothesis is that the re-composition of religious ideas and practices by the Limbus—in other words, the introduction of reforms in the religious field—is fostered by the interactions of persons, bodies, and ideas across the Indo-Nepalese border. This question also concerns the religious dimension of ‘belonging’ to the trans-border community in relation to both the frontier and the state: do Limbu on both sides of the border view their rituals as being ‘connected’ and express through common deities, cosmology, or a shared ritual territory a common sense of belonging? Women’s perspective and practices are expected to lead further the understanding of these questions. This project ultimately concerns the articulation between the state and transnational spaces in the contemporary globalised world, which is a central concern in international anthropological research today.

The originality of this project concerns 1) the cultural practices of the Limbu people, 2) the study of mobility and migration between Sikkim and Nepal, and 3) the trans-border approach. This project will, firstly, yield the first fieldwork data and publications on religious dynamics amongst Limbus in nearly forty years, and, more generally, renew anthropological research on this group. Additionally, the study of mobility and migration across the north-eastern part of the Indo-Nepal border will be a significant contribution to Himalayan studies, where the role played by Sikkim regarding the mobility and migration of Nepali people has been little studied so far. Finally, this second study of the eastern Himalayas from a trans-border perspective will bring new elements of discussion in this field of research.

The research will be implemented primarily through ethnographically based study in Sikkim and in Nepal (thirty-two months of fieldwork), including focus area study and ‘mobile fieldwork’ focused on the trans-border flows of people, ideas and books. The remaining working time at CIRDIS will be devoted to textual study, preparation of publications and conferences, data analysis, and archiving of project-related data in the Himalayan Archive Vienna and Phaidra the Repository of the University of Vienna. Dr. Vandenhelsken will be assisted by the doctoral student Prem Chhetri, who will be employed by the project for eighteen months. In addition to the overall cooperation with and support through CIRDIS, Prof. Martin Gaenszle will contribute as scientific collaborator and carry out around 10% of the total duration of the planed fieldwork.

Project Leader

Mélanie Vandenhelsken

Project members

Prem Chhetri
Martin Gaenszle