Dr. Shawn Rowlands public lecture on 25 April

Dr. Shawn Rowlands will give a lecture on 25 April at 14.15 Ülikooli 16-215.

Urban Myths of Bhutan

Folklore remains an important story-telling component of Bhutan, although it has been scarcely studied at the academic level. Prior studies have emphasised notions of tradition and continuity in Bhutan from native and non-native scholars. However, rapid exposure to global audiences and ideas have contributed to the rapid growth in urban myths, a subject which has thus far remained completely unstudied. This talk details Bhutanese story-telling traditions alongside the recent development in urban mythology, which has often demonstrated components of what the sociologist Stanley Cohen described as moral panics. The research here is preliminary but puts forward some key trends in Bhutanese urban myths as expressions of older folk traditions and reflections of international trends.

Fools and Conmen: Expressions of  Conformity in Bhutanese Folktales

Tales of resistance in Bhutanese folktales are common, but despite a single local article on the subject, they have been discussed little in the literature. The tales present a characterization of faith and monarchy that runs counter to the generally accepted attitudes or most outspoken attitudes in Bhutanese contemporary society. This talk analyses trends in depicting religious practitioners and rulers to demonstrate the nature of playful resistance in folklore. It contrasts these tales to some Japanese folktales of resistance against the Tokugawa Shogunate (military government of Japan 1603–1868), not to suggest a universal approach in Asian folktales, but instead to highlight how resistance is a subtle act of conformity or acceptance in peasant life.


Dr Shawn C. Rowlands is an anthropologist and historian with diverse professional interests in human cultures. He has a PhD in Museum Anthropology and has taught at Harvard University, Bard College, the University of Queensland, and the Royal University of Bhutan (at Royal Thimphu College), where he is currently an Associate Professor. Alongside his teaching, Dr Rowlands has curated three major museum exhibitions on the material intersections of native culture with colonial trade and power. Most recently, he has engaged with folk research and material culture in Bhutan, especially on notions of resistance, body-snatching, and urban myths. He is also working on a side project on death and material culture in the Himalayas, aiming to publish an edited volume on the topic in collaboration with anthropologists and archaeologists from the region.

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