Fractures and Connections: A Critical Phenomenology of Solitude in Tibetan Exile

Name of applicant

Harmandeep Kaur Gill


University of Oxford


DKK 700,000



Type of grant

Visiting Fellowships at University of Oxford


Following the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959, thousands of Tibetans were forced to flee into exile in India and Nepal. This project is a comparative phenomenological exploration of solitude in the lives of elderly (lay people/monastics) and young (primarily artists) Tibetan exiles who have been separated from family members and live in India. Setting this comparative project within the anthropological scholarship on migration, community and kinship, this project will explore how separation of family members affect selfhood, personal relationships and life trajectories for the elderly and young Tibetans. Furthermore, the project will tune into how religious and artistic technologies are applied or developed in handling, enduring, and transforming solitude in Tibetan exile.


In the developing world, loneliness is defined as an increasingly expanding health issue. The COVID-19 pandemic has made loneliness more pressing, particularly among vulnerable populations, such as the elderly. While enough attention has been directed towards the negative effects of loneliness, e.g. depression, from medical and psychiatric perspectives, leading to a stigmatization of solitary individuals, we have still not dived into the phenomenological nature of human solitude. In Tibetan Buddhism, there are specific religious practices for coming to terms with human solitude. By drawing upon Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and perspectives in European phenomenology, this project aims to develop a phenomenology of solitude.


This project builds upon my PhD research on aging and dying among elderly Tibetans living in Northern India. I will draw upon 13.5 months of fieldwork I carried out among the elderly Tibetans during my PhD studies. Additionally, I will carry out 3 - 4 months of fieldwork among young Tibetan artists living in Dharamsala and New Delhi in Northern India, while also continuing my engagements with some of the elderly Tibetans. The data will be collected through participant observation, semi-structured interviews and life-history interviews. I will also apply two experimental methods that offered me an intimate access and experience-near understanding during fieldwork for my PhD studies, including massaging the legs and feet of elderly Tibetans, and photography.

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