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What is Nepal?: Diaspora, Academia and Boundaries

Heather Hindman

University of Texas at Austin and Association of Nepal and Himalayan Studies



In this paper, I reflect upon three different limens of “Nepal Studies.”  The last decade has seen a rise of Nepal diaspora studies.  This research holds a difficult position in Asian-American studies as well as in South Asian studies, territory that was confronted in the 1990s when it was questioned whether diasporic scholarship on Indians could be presented at the Madison South Asia conference.  Furthermore, there are significant Nepali populations outside of the Global North, or for that matter Gulf Countries, who are often invisible not only in scholarship but in their host communities.  I will focus particularly on Nepalis in South Korea, with anecdotes about Nepali dominance in UAE airport jobs.  Presenting these cases briefly, I will discuss how these examples fit uncomfortably in existing scholarly boundaries.  This also highlights the ways in which scholarship about Nepal has had outsized influence on theoretical and conceptual work that is of interest to those not directly addressing the region.  Concepts built upon historical and field research on Nepal have found homes in other areas.  In addition, several strong scholars of Nepal have produced what might be seen as “schools” of Nepal studies that have resonance in religious, anthropological and political scholarship.  The challenges of Nepali political history over the past several decades have generated conflicts that make the solidity of Prithvi Narayan Shah’s modern nation-state unclear, a topic I wish to point to as another limen of Nepal studies, but which I will only address briefly.  Overall, I want to suggest a strength in Nepal studies, one that has the potential to continue in-depth work about the region, but with relevance and interest to the entire scholarly community.