ECON 136/ REL 136: Caste at the Intersection of Economy, Religion, and Law Nepal

ECON 136/REL 136 (4 credits)
4 weeks in Nepal
Professor Shikha Silwal and Professor Tim Lubin

Social hierarchy touches every aspect of life, and South Asia's traditional caste structure is a special case: this highly complex, strictly observed system has been religiously legitimized and criticized over a 3000-year history, and is nowadays seen as being at odds with the modern world. Yet it remains a crucial factor in social identity, economic roles, legal status, and religious practice. The course addresses these four themes, providing historical background, social scientific analysis of the modern situation, and direct field experience for the students in Nepal.

An otherwise pristine country with a population mostly of Hindus and Buddhists (including many Tibetan refugees), Nepal has undergone some major changes in its recent history. After emerging from a decade of civil war in 2006, the country abolished its 239-year-old monarchy in 2008, and a new constitution is currently being formulated. Amidst all these changes, the system of caste discrimination has taken a central stage, which makes it a very timely topic.

We will stay at the Tewa Centre in Kirtipur, just across the river from the nation's capital, Kathmandu. Field experience in both rural and urban settings, visiting speakers who are experts in their fields, and trips to temples, mountain towns, traditional villages, and other sites will round out the learning experience.

The course qualifies for FDR-SS4. Major/Minor credit: Religion, Shepherd Poverty Program (in consultation with Professor Pickett).

Program Fee (paid to W&L): $3475. This fee includes travel, room and board and visa fees.

Estimated Additional Expenses: Suggested $200 spending money for souvenirs and other personal expenses; students must have a mobile phone service, whether through their American provider or by purchasing a Nepal SIM card for their phone ($10-20). Optional: $180 - 45 min. mountain flight to view the Himalayas (weather permitting).

For more information, please contact Professor Lubin at or Professor Silwal at