The emergence of a modern secular education system in Bhutan in the 1960s forced the monastic institutions in the country to adapt and change to the new social, political and educational landscape. This article explores the transformation and changes to monastic education in Bhutan during the second half of the 20th century and the early 21st century, with a particular focus on the introduction of a new monastic curriculum in the 1980s and the rise of the Shedra (Tib. bshadgrwa) or monastic college as the central religious educational institution in contemporary Bhutan. Early research on Buddhist education and the monastic curriculum in Bhutan the 20th century focused on the tensions between the traditional religious system and the modern secular one up until the late 1980s (Phuntsho 2000), and the later process of convergence between both systems in the 1990s and the early 2000s (Denman and Namgyal 2008).
This article argues that Bhutan is in the midst of a new transformational period in which Buddhist education and the monastic curriculum are being revitalized through a series of innovations and changes that have to do as much with a dialogue with secular education as with the impact of other factors: the influence of transnational Buddhist movements and ideas, the introduction of the commentarial curriculum from Tibetan monasteries in India, and the loss of political power by the religious hierarchy after the introduction of the Bhutanese constitution in 2008, among others. The result is a monastic curriculum that asserts specific Bhutanese sectarian and national identity and introduces a religious education that is transforming monastic life and education in ways that we are only beginning to see. For reasons of space, we will not discuss here the case of religious education in nunneries, which is the focus of a different article as well as part of our larger research project on modern religious education in Bhutan.