An Introduction to Bhutan

To start the course, we'll take a deep dive into the history of Bhutan. Bhutanese scholar Dr. Karma Phuntsho unpacks the country's unique and complex cultural history as well as the forces that have come to shape Bhutan's worldview and national identity.


  • Before Buddhism: In the pre-Buddhist era, the Bhutanese worldview was deeply influenced by nature; people maintained a strong connection to nature and feared local deities, spirits, and supernatural forces.
  • 7th century: Buddhism is first introduced to Bhutan during the reign of Songstsen Gampo, the 33rd ruler of the Tibetan Empire and an important king in Tibetan history.
  • 8th century: Padmasambhava arrives in Bhutan, where he is revered as Guru Rinpoche. According to Bhutanese sources, Guru Rinpoche is accredited with bringing Buddhist teachings to the country.
  • Middle Ages: Mongol warlords rise and decline in power.
  • 17th century: Wars with Tibet, followed by the British invasion; pre-modern Bhutan emerges.
  • 1959: A year of major transition. Bhutan embraces modernization, resulting in improved transportation, infrastructure, and development that connect Bhutan to the rest of the world.
  • 1970s: The Gross National Happiness index is enacted by the nation's fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, to measure progress and promote collective well-being.
  • 1999: The internet and television arrive simultaneously, which prompts rapid cultural and technological change.
  • 2008: The first democratic elections for parliament are held.