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Mystical Natures

A comparative study of religious-environmental dynamics among Inner Asian and African dryland communities

About

Arid and semi-arid areas, which cover about 41% of the world and sustain two billion people, are uniquely challenged under global environmental change. Shifts in land management, land tenure and land use, political instability, and climate change challenge dryland populations who are often mobile and rely on livestock. In parallel, some dryland areas are undergoing rapid religious transformations, such as conversion to global religions, spiritual revitalization, and radicalization, which occur alongside cultural change, economic diversification, and political marginalization. The MYNA project explores relationships between religious and environmental transformations in dryland areas of Inner Asia and Africa by focusing on Mongolian and Kenyan pastoral systems and northern Mozambican farming systems. This study advances the scholarship on global environmental change by addressing the neglected dimensions of spirituality, religion and religious change. Find out more here.

Myna News

Fieldwork in the Gobi desert

Dr. Batbuyan Batjav, one of our team’s geographers and the director of the NGO Center for Nomadic Pastoralism Studies, conducted fieldwork in the Gobi desert. Spending...

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Research Team

Meet our dynamic multidisciplinary research team! Experts from diverse fields come together to tackle questions about religion and the environment

Joana Roque de Pinho

Principal Investigator
Environmental Anthropologist
(PhD, Colorado State University, 2009)
Instituto Universitário de Lisboa
(ISCTE-IUL), Centro de Estudos Internacionais and Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University.

Troy Sternberg

Co-Principal Investigator
Geographer
(PhD, University of Oxford, 2009)
Instituto Universitário de Lisboa
(ISCTE-IUL), Centro de Estudos Internacionais 

Angela Kronenburg García

Team member
Anthropologist
(PhD, Wageningen University, 2015)
Earth and Life Institute, UCLouvain, Belgium
Department of Historical and Geographic Sciences and the Ancient World, University of Padua, Italy 

Megan Wainwright

Consultant
Medical anthropologist
(PhD, Durham University (UK), 2013)
Qualitative Research Consultant, and Honorary Research Fellow, Department of Anthropology, Durham University

Batbuyan Batjav

Consultant
Geographer
(PhD, State Pedagogical University, 2000) 
Centre for Nomadic Pastoralism Studies,
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Stanley ole Neboo

Co-researcher 
Maasai pastoralist, Maasai Mara, Kenya

Lenaai ole Mowuo

Co-researcher 
Maasai agro-pastoralist from the Loita Hills in Kenya

Richard ole Supeet

Co-researcher
Kisonko Maasai pastoralist living in Loitokitok, Isinet, Kajiado County, Kenya

Zaira Tas Kronenburg

Consultant
Liberal Arts and Sciences Graduate majoring in Earth, Energy and Sustainability (BA 2022, Leiden University College)

Amadu Djaló

Research assistant
PhD Student, African Studies, Instituto Universitário de Lisboa
(ISCTE-IUL)

Lhagvademchig Jadamba

Collaborator
Cultural anthropologist
(PhD, University of Shiga Prefecture, Japan)
Department of Anthropology and Archaeology,
National University of Mongolia and Instituto Universitário de Lisboa
(ISCTE-IUL), Centro de Estudos Internacionais

Podcasts

Publications

Publications

Troy Sternberg, Joana Roque de Pinho,
Batbuyan Batjav

ABSTRACT: The developing field of Mongolian International Studies offers a diverse range of research topics. A review of recent articles reflects an emphasis on geo-politics, particularly evolving relations with its superpower neighbours. Whilst state-to-state engagement with China and Russia predominates, regional countries (Japan, Korea) and the US and Europe are examined within the ‘Third Neighbour’ policy. Trade and economics are also studied, from Oyu Tolgoi and mining to the role of the IMF and international agencies. Currently lacking is a focus on human-driven engagement that reflects Mongolian livelihoods, spirituality and community environments. Such social and cultural dynamics are essential to both pastoral and rural livelihoods and to understanding the nation. In 2020-2022 international academic endeavours enabled Mongolian herder representatives to participate in a global drylands exchange network with dryland residents in thirteen countries. The process provided an exceptional opportunity to present Mongolian perspectives to pastoralists and academics from Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. This grounded Mongolian livelihoods and situated rural dynamics in a global context. Here we report key engagements and findings as Mongolian herders shared lives and practices in the context of this international pastoral/drylands project. Moving beyond the political/economic rubric, as this project did, delivers a more representative and complete comprehension of Mongolia to the global international studies community.

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Learn about the fascinating life of the former Head of Mongolian Buddhism through MYNA collaborator Professor Lhagvademchig Jadamba’s latest publication “The Ninth Jebtsundampa, Jampel Namdrol Chokyi Gyeltsen” published in The Treasury of Lives, a peer-reviewed biographical encyclopedia of Tibet, Inner Asia, and the Himalaya.

The Ninth Bogd Jebtsundampa Khutugtu, born in Tibet in 1932, was recognized as the reincarnation of the Bogd Khan, who was Mongolia’s theocratic ruler between 1911 and 1924. The Ninth Jebtsundampa’s life in exile and mission to promote Buddhist teachings spanned Mongolia’s transition to democracy, contributed to the revival of Mongolian Buddhism and placed Buddhism at the heart of diplomatic relations between China, India, Mongolia and Russia.

Read the article HERE

Joana Roque de Pinho is an ecologist and environmental anthropologist whose research focuses on changing West and East African sub-humid and dryland social-ecological systems; and how members of rural natural-resource reliant communities experience and understand environmental changes. She is most passionate about collaborating directly with rural community members as collaborative researchers/visual ethnographers through participatory visual research methodologies. For the MYNA project, she explores the intersection of religious transformations with livelihoods, land tenure/use changes and climatic instability. She contributes a multi-sited Kenyan case-study that explores the neglected role of Christianity in Maasailand’s social-ecological dynamics, and participates in the Mongolia and Mozambique case studies.

Troy Sternberg Extensive travel led to Troy’s interest in desert regions, environments and people. Research focuses on extreme climate hazards (drought, dzud), environments (water, steppe vegetation, desertification) and social dynamics (pastoralists, social-environmental interaction, religion and environmental change, mining and communities).

Angela Kronenburg García is an anthropologist, whose work has focused on resource access and land-use change in African drylands. She contributes to the MYNA project with case-studies in Mozambique and Kenya. In northern Mozambique, she explores how the expansion of Christian commercial farming is changing land use in a region that is partly Muslim and where the local population largely depends on small-scale (subsistent) farming for a living. In Kenya, she studies how the re-start of individual land demarcation, the proliferation of Evangelical churches and changes in Maasai culture connect in Loita.

Megan Wainwright has a BA in Anthropology (McGill University) and MSc and PhD in Medical Anthropology (Durham University). She has worked as an independent research consultant since 2018 and lives in rural Portugal. She is passionate about research methods and the contribution anthropological and qualitative research approaches can make beyond disciplinary boundaries. She has expertise in qualitative evidence synthesis and is working with members of the MYNA team on a systematic review of the relationship(s) between environmental change(s) and religious change(s) in drylands. She also produces podcasts and provides methodological support to the project.

Batbuyan Batjav is a social-economic geographer who has worked on nomadic pastoral issues in Mongolia for two decades. A former Director of the Mongolian Institute of Geography, he has been a Visiting Scholar at the University of Oxford, Colorado State University, University of Arizona and Cambridge University. He is dedicated to strengthening pastoralism as a viable contemporary livelihood.

Stanley ole Neboo, 36 years old, married with two children, is a livestock keeper in the Maasai Mara, Narok County, Kenya. Stanley studied business management, tourism, and conservation. He currently works as a freelance safari guide and is the Chairman of the Talek River User Association (Talek WRUA). He is one of the filmmakers in the award-winning participatory documentary “Maasai Voices on Climate Change (and other changes, too)  (2013; Jean Rouch Award for Collaborative Filmmaking). He contributes to the Maasai Mara case study with research on the role and position of Evangelical churches vis-à-vis rapid changes occurring on the land (fencing, climatic instability, land selling, conservation) and in family life.

Lenaai ole Mowuo is a Loita Maasai from Kenya, and belongs to the Ilmeshuki age-group and the Ilaiser clan. He keeps cattle, sheep, goats and bees; grows beans, maize and potatoes; and is also a boda-boda (motorbike taxi) rider. Lenaai has worked as a research assistant and a co-researcher in several research projects since 2007, and features in the film All Eyez on Me! (2021). In the MYNA project, he contributes to the Loita case-study that explores the links between land demarcation, the expansion of new churches and cultural change.  

Richard ole Supeet is a Kisonko Maasai pastoralist living in Loitokitok, Isinet, Kajiado County, Kenya. He is from the Ilaiserrclan, Iloodokishu subclan. He is of the IIkidotu age-set, and also farms. By profession, he is a teacher. He owns a local private school through which he aims to lift the standard of education in his community. Richard is also an experienced research assistant who has worked on multiple research projects. Richard and Joana Roque de Pinho worked closely together from 2000 to 2004, and again in 2009 when he took part in the documentary “Through our eyes: a Maasai photograhic journey” (2010)  by Lindsay Simpson & Joana Roque de Pinho 

Zaira Tas graduated from her BA Liberal Arts and Sciences: Global Challenges in 2022 and has focused her studies on environmental sustainability and development. She has a particular interest in how the environment and human society interact and affect one another. She joined the MYNA team as a consultant, working on a systematic literature review examining the relationship between religious changes and environmental changes in dryland areas. She also accompanied team members on a recent field trip to Kenya, where she assisted with project management and interviews.

Amadu Djaló is a PhD student in African Studies at the Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL) supervised by Joana Roque de Pinho. His thesis focuses on alternative models of development in a remote island community of Guinea-Bissau. For the MYNA project he is assisting with a systematic review on religious change(s) and environmental change(s) in drylands. 

Lhagvademchig Jadamba

Dr. Lhagvademchig Jadamba, in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, National University of Mongolia, is a cultural anthropologist specialized in Buddhist studies. His interests include religion in post-socialist Mongolia, religious diplomacy, Tibeto-Mongolian Buddhism and Buddhist art and literature. He is currently a Visiting Professor at the Center for International Studies (CEI), University Institute of Lisbon (ISCTE) and lives in Portugal with his family. 

Batbuyan Batjav is a social-economic geographer who has worked on nomadic pastoral issues in Mongolia for two decades. A former Director of the Mongolian Institute of Geography, he has been a Visiting Scholar at the University of Oxford, Colorado State University, University of Arizona and Cambridge University. He is dedicated to strengthening pastoralism as a viable contemporary livelihood.