Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Emily T. Yeh

Second Advisor

Joe Bryan

Third Advisor

Holly Gayley

Fourth Advisor

Timothy Oakes

Fifth Advisor

Elizabeth Olson


Increasingly, non-governmental organizations and social movements, ranging from the local to global in scale, are mobilizing sacred landscapes--intimate, yet contested and politically charged lifeworlds and expressions of beliefs--to support environmental conservation programs, development agendas, and indigenous peoples' territorial claims. Yet, such mobilizations often essentialize and depoliticize understandings of such landscapes as well as human-environment relations in such places. The purpose of this research was to investigate the ways in which the concept of sacred landscape works to shape articulations between global movements and local concerns, with specific attention to the role of space, and multiple spatialities, in such processes. In Nepal, constructions of sacred landscapes embody enunciations of indigenous identity and territoriality produced out of articulations between global environmental and development discourses and localized political and social agendas. Despite the seemingly fertile ground for articulations between the concept of Khumbu as a beyul--a sacred valley in the Nyingma Tibetan Buddhist tradition--and global discourses of environmental conservation, development, and indigenous politics, Khumbu Sherpa informants, outside of a small group of academic elites and community leaders, were indifferent toward mobilizing the beyul concept to support environmental conservation and development, or as the basis for a territorial claim in Nepal's indigenous rights movement. I used qualitative methodologies to explore Khumbu Sherpas' relations with Khumbu as an animate territory, how those relations are performed through everyday practices and rituals, and the disconnections between those relations and local concerns over environmental conservation, development, and indigenous rights. I show that the beyul concept produces an ideological space that lacks reference to the material and everyday spaces Khumbu Sherpas produce through practices and rituals maintaining relationships with localized deities and spirits. Further, I find that the spaces produced by the state and through tourism and mountaineering buffer Khumbu Sherpas from the political and economic marginalization driving participation in Nepal's indigenous rights movement among some other groups in Nepal. I conclude that the multiple spaces produced in Khumbu have worked to disrupt the development of the specific indigenous and territorial consciousness necessary for the space of the beyul to enunciate in Khumbu.