Published: Aug. 9, 2021

With the help of a new scholar, the Center for Asian Studies is launching a program that looks to educate students about this politically fraught region

The University of Colorado Boulder is one of the top research programs in the country in Tibet and Himalayan Studies, but ­undergraduate students have been unable to pursue a directed course of study in that field—but scholars are working to change that.

On Sept. 28, 2020, the department received an Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Languages (UISFL) grant from the U.S. Department of Education for the next two years. The grant supports efforts in the Center for Asian Studies to create a new certificate program in Tibetan and Himalayan Studies. With the expansion of the curriculum, a new instructor position opened, which led new Asian Studies instructor Tenzin Tsepak to the University of Colorado Boulder.

Tenzin Tsepak 
Above: Tenzin Tsepak during his dissertation research at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamshala, India. 


Tsepak will instruct a set of new courses, including: Introduction to Tibetan Civilization (ASIA 1700), Encounters: Tibet, the Himalayas and the West (ASIA 4300) and Tibetan language courses.

Tsepak is currently finishing his doctoral studies in the department of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington.

“I taught a lot of courses related to Tibet here at Indiana University,” Tsepak said. “For the past two years, I taught ‘Intro to India’ through the India studies program here and then I also included a module on the Himalayan mountainous region, north and northeastern India. Whenever I get a chance, I like to talk about the Himalayan and Tibetan connection.”

From 2015 to 2021, Tsepak, who is originally from the region, taught a range of Tibetan studies from linguistics to history. His research and forthcoming articles have granted him various awards, scholarships and fellowships. The grants helped him travel to the Himalayan region in South Asia and India to directly connect with Tibetan scholars and research materials.

 “I go (traveled) to all these different monasteries, look into their archives, see what’s related to my research... I try my best to learn as much as I can and get in touch with the Tibetan academic lineage and learn from their local? scholars. I’m trying my best to combine these two academic traditions (Western and Tibetan) in my work.”

Tsepak was born in India and attended different schools in the country, one of which was established by the Dalai Lama. He then received his bachelor's degree in English literature at Loyola College and master’s at Madras Christian College, both in Chennai, India.   

Tim Oakes, who directs the Center for Asian Studies, said Tsepak’s expertise complements that of other faculty. “We look for someone whose work is capable of transcending their specific disciplinary training so that they can speak to the broader area studies aspects that we’re committed to building here at CU Boulder,” Oakes said.

Tsepak’s classes will allow students to “transcend the borders” and learn about traditional and contemporary Tibetan civilizations, culture and the relationship between Tibet and the West.

In Introduction to Tibetan Civilizations, the class will explore various cultural components. The topics range from geography, demographics and pre-Buddhist cultures and traditions.

"In Tsepak, we saw someone well-versed in transcultural Tibetan studies; his perspective as a member of the South Asian Tibetan diaspora, who initially studied in South India prior to earning his PhD at Indiana will be a valuable contribution to our program," Oakes said.

Read full article here.

Asia Related Courses offered in the Fall:

ASIA 4200: Politics of Memory and Heritage in Asia
(new course!)

T/Th 5:30-6:45 pm
In person
Lauren Collins

Explores the uses of memory and heritage in the present-day politics of Asia. Examines how the past – historical events, heritage sites, shared memories – fuels environmental and nationalist movements, diplomatic disputes, grassroots activism, nostalgic tourism, and popular media. Delves especially into the legacies of colonialism and conflict in the region, highlighting how communities today negotiate competing goals of justice and reconciliation in the wake of historical trauma, heritage preservation, and environmental protection. Engages with films, graphic novels, public art, photography, museums, monuments, archaeological sites, and more.

ASIA 4500: Urban Asia

M/W 5:50-7:05 pm
In person
Lauren Collins

Explores change and continuity in urban Asia, using a transdisciplinary lens and a broad range of scholarship, film, art, and literature. Delves into both the rich history of Asian cities and the complexities of urban life in the region today. Topics include: the millennium sustainable development goals, the role of tradition and heritage, legacies of war and colonialism, rural to urban migration, poverty and gentrification, political activism, the impact of tourism, and environmental challenges.

ASIA 1700: Introduction to Tibetan Civilization

MWF 4:10-5:00 pm
In Person
Tsepak Tenzin

This course aims to provide a general overview of the civilization of Tibet. We will look at how Tibetan civilization came into existence and what are some major components of this civilization. The topics that we will study range from Tibet’s geography and its population, Tibet before Buddhism, early Tibetan empires, the rise of Buddhism, different schools of Tibetan Buddhism, arts and crafts, customs and traditions, and dance and music.

ASIA 4300 Special Topics in Asian Studies
Encounters: Tibet, the Himalayas, and the West

T/TH 2:20-3:35 pm
In Person
Tsepak Tenzin

Tibet and the Himalayas have long captured the imagination and fascination of the West. This course examines the history of encounters and interactions between Tibet, the Himalayas, and the West. Topics include early European knowledge about Tibet, historical accounts of various European missionaries, travelers, and merchants from the medieval to the early modern period, the construction of the myth of “Shangri-La,” and Tibetan ideas of the West and Western civilization.

INDO 1110: Beginning Indonesian 1 - DILS

M/W/F 1:50-2:40 pm
hybrid in person/remote 

INDO 2110: Intermediate Indonesian 1 - DILS

M/W/F 8-8:50 am
hybrid in person/remote

TBTN 1110: Colloquial Tibetan 1

M/W/F 8-8:50 am
In Person
Tsepak Tenzin

Provides a thorough introduction to the colloquial Tibetan language, emphasizing speaking and listening in the Lhasa dialect. Trains students in basic conversations and the idiomatic and syntactical features of Tibetan through drills and dialogues.

TBTN 1210: Modern Literary Tibetan 1

M/W/F 9:10-10 am
In Person
Tsepak Tenzin

Provides a thorough introduction to the modern literary Tibetan, emphasizing reading and writing. Trains students in the Tibetan script, elementary grammar, and reading authentic materials, including Tibetan maxims, pop song lyrics, and children’s stories.


RLST 3550: Tibetan Buddhism

T/Th 3:55–5:10 pm
In Person
Holly Gayley

This course explores Tibetan Buddhism through sacred biographies, writings by historical and contemporary authors on the Buddhist path, and films that provide a visual window into Tibetan life worlds. Throughout the semester, we pay special attention to different kinds of Tibetan journeys: moving through the life cycle, treading the Buddhist path of self-cultivation, embarking on meditation in solitary retreat, traversing from death to rebirth in the bardo or intermediate state, and traveling on pilgrimage and into exile.

GEOG 3822: Geography of China

M/W 4:10 - 5:25 pm
Tim Oakes

Geography of China explores the diverse human and environmental geographies of the world’s most populous country, with particular attention to understanding the dynamics of contemporary social, cultural, economic, technological and geo-political changes, as well as evaluating the growing influence of ‘global China’ around the world.

JPNS 3811: Love, Death, and Desire: Classical Japanese Literature in Translation

M/W 4:10-5:25 pm
Marjorie Burge

with ASIA 4001-004 Co-Seminar/CLAC

A CLAC Co-seminar to JPNS 3811, Love, Death, and Desire: Classical Japanese Literature in Translation
Thursdays, 2:20-4:20pm
Instructor: Marjorie Burge
This 1-credit co-seminar offers an opportunity to explore the modern reception of classical Japanese literature through manga adaptations popular in contemporary Japan.  The language of the original works is difficult for many young readers, but manga adaptations allow these classical texts to continue to be enjoyed today (and offer an entertaining shortcut to learning their content for those cramming for entrance exams). This co-seminar will allow you to apply your knowledge of the original work as read in English translation in the main course as we work to analyze how the manga medium reworks its source material in an effective and entertaining manner. All manga readings will be in Japanese. Japanese ability required.
Interested students please contact the instructor at
* Must be concurrently enrolled in JPNS 3811.

CHIN 1051: Masterpieces of Chinese Literature

TTH 11:10 AM - 12:25 PM
Katherine Alexander

What is a masterpiece of literature? Whose perspectives are represented in "masterpieces?" In this class, we will read a wide variety of literature from premodern and early modern China that, at one point or another in history, would have been considered a masterpiece. We'll read texts that emperors and philosophers turned to for counsel, but also plays that made audiences laugh, poems that made homesick soldiers sigh, and excerpts from novels that polite society condemned. As we read together this semester, we'll reconsider what it is that makes a work a masterpiece, and think about how we, readers in the present and on the other side of the world from China, can find connection with the past and with each other in these texts.

ANTH 4525 Global Islams

T/Th 9:30-10:50
Carla Jones

This course studies Islam in its global configurations by situating its center outside of the Middle East. Through an analysis of the history of Islamic trade and migration to other parts of the world, such as Southeast Asia, Europe and North America, we will study the relationship between globalization and Islamic identity in the 21st century. In the process, we will discover how anthropologists frame and conduct their research we will encounter how human forms of community are simultaneously globally configured yet locally produced. Does fashion, finance, food or finance facilitate alternative global Muslim communities? Does it take more effort to be pious or secular? Does learning how young Muslim men in Egypt experience boredom, or young Muslim women in Indonesia experience fun, tell us anything about the role of religion in their lives? How does thinking about organ donation in a religious framework help us think about inequality?

HIST 4738: The History of Early Modern Japan (1590-1868)

T/Th 9:35-10:50
In Person
Marcia Yonemoto

This upper-division course will explore the mysteries and conundrums of early modern Japan: How did a state run by warriors (samurai) manage to maintain peace for over 200 years? How did a country with strictly limited foreign trade create substantial economic growth? How and why was it that commoners, not elites, were responsible for the major literary and artistic trends we now associate with “traditional” Japan? And why is Hokusai’s print of the "great wave" not a print of a wave at all?

RLST 2202: Islam 

T/Th 12:45 pm – 2:00 pm
format TBA
Aun Hasan Ali

Introduces students to foundational Islamic concepts, texts, core practices, historical narratives and intellectual, spiritual and literary traditions. Topics covered include: the figure of Muhammad; the Quran; the emergence of distinct Muslim identities; Hadith; Sharia; Islamic theology; Islamic philosophy; science in Islamic civilization; Islamic mysticism; the impact of colonialism and modernity on the Muslim world; gender and sexuality; political Islam.

HIST 1628: Introduction to Modern China (1644 - present)

T/Th 12:45 to 2:00 pm
format TBA
Timothy Weston

The class will be a combination of lecture and discussion and will provide students with enough historical knowledge to understand China’s role in the contemporary world.

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