Recently a team of researchers and I were awarded a Research Development Grant from the Royal Thimphu College and will be comparing ethnoecological relationships of two locations in Bhutan in the coming Spring 2020 semester.  This research builds off my previous work related to ecotourism and conservation, but takes a new turn by exploring particular motivators for conservation that our outside the scope of economics.  Rather, we will be looking at affective relations between humans, the landscape, and multiple non-human actors.  Such actors will include inanimate objects, wildlife, and locally perceived deities.  An excerpt from our research proposal reads:

Previous research has shown that motivations for conservation are varied within Bhutan (Montes & Kafley 2019; Montes, 2019), but largely rely on spiritual values and beliefs (Montes, Tshering, and Phuntsho, in review; Montes, Kafley, Subba, Dema, Dendup, and Seldon, 2019; Allison, 2019, 2015).  However, these spiritual motivators are rarely incorporated into policy planning within the country.  Conversely, many conservation programs within Bhutan have adopted “neoliberal leanings” (Montes and Bhattari, p.214) that aim to incentivize ‘good’ behaviour through financial means.  And as modern conservation policy in the country continues to rely on such means, conservation discourse will shift to inculcate neoliberal norms and train the population to primarily respond to financial incentives.  This risks a ‘crowding out’ effect (Fehr & Falk, 2002; Singh, 2015) in which other motivations for conservation may be  deemed less important by society.  Regardless of current policy trends, there remains a strong current of spiritual adherence within Bhutanese society and represents a capacity for conservation.

While other work has addressed this connection between spiritual values and conservation (Ura, 2001; Pommaret, 1999; Allison, 2019), we propose that such values are under-applied as motivators in conservation policy.  As such, the objectives of the research are as follows:

  1. Improve conservation initiatives in the country through nuanced analyses related to local perceptions and behaviours.
  2. Provide alternatives to economic incentives that initiate commodification processes related to the environment. 
  3. Promote active engagement of local peoples in conservation efforts. 
  4. Develop recommendations for future conservation policy and legislation. 

Allison, E. (2019). Diety Citadels: Sacred Sites of Bio-Cultural Resistance and Resilience in Bhutan. Religions, 10(268), 1-17.

Pommaret, F. (1999). Yul and Lha: The Territory and its Deity in Bhutan. Bulletin of Tibetology, 40(1), 39-67.

Ura, K. (2001, November 26). Deities and environment. Kuensel. Thimphu, Bhutan.