Home Institution

Harvard University

Publication Date

Fall 2004

Program Name

Mongolia: Culture and Development


This paper is essentially a history of religion in Mongolia with the purpose of illuminating the present state of religion at a socially, culturally, and politically unique point in Mongolia’s history. It has only been fourteen years since Mongolia experienced a political transition from totalitarianism to democracy, and the country now finds itself in a kind of “Limbo” with respect to not only the political state of the nation, but also the spiritual state of its individuals. The result is a religious climate filled with uncertainty and speculation, but also with passion and love. I attempt to explore this current setting in this paper.

I traveled to Tsetserleg in Arkhangai aimag and lived there with a lama then a pastor for a total of approximately two weeks. My goal during this period was to experience firsthand the current religious climate as it relates to both Buddhists and Christians. Having a strong Christian background myself, and identifying myself as a Christian still learning and searching for a more “complete” personal spirituality, I nonetheless feel satisfied that I have provided as unbiased a view of religion as possible in this project. I faced great emotional and intellectual difficulties attempting to reconcile the assumptions and expectations I held with the observations I made in Tsetserleg. Eventually I found myself “stripped” of explanations and having to rediscover what I found to be “good” or “bad” in religion, evangelism, and spirituality. I experienced great confusion and frustration as I was forced to realize the extreme limits of my understanding and perspective, and reconcile that fact with my view of religion and the spirituality of others. This is the conflict that most significantly shapes this paper and the course it takes.

The paper opens with two distinct images, or “snapshots”—one image from within a monastery and the other from within a church. These images are devoid of analysis and are purely descriptive. The paper will eventually lead back to these two images, but will have provided the reader with a more complete understanding of them before their reintroduction. I have composed a paper that is strongly academic at first—reliant upon research and stripped of emotion and not explicitly experiential—as it follows the course of history. As the paper progresses, however, history becomes the present, and my personal experiences become more significant and influential. In the conclusion I analyze the conflicts that face religion in Mongolia today, while offering my own findings and suggestions as a limited observer.

A constant theme within this paper is the continuous and cyclical nature of history. Indeed, it is partially for this reason that I have decided not to separate the paper into sections but to present it as a connected whole—just as it is impossible to understand or analyze a point in history without taking into account the influences or ideologies that led up to that point, it is inadvisable that the reader attempt to understand this paper without considering it in its entirety.


History of Religions of Eastern Origins | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Religion


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