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India: Species, Deities & Communities

Journey through the stunning ecological, cultural, and spiritual landscapes of the Western Ghats, where people, wildlife, and deities meet in sacred groves and forest temples.

Course Overview

We will journey through the rich ecological, cultural, and spiritual landscapes of the Western Ghats, exploring sacred groves and forest temples where wildlife, people, and deities meet. The Western Ghats region is a biodiversity hotspot, home to diverse local ecosystems with an abundance of plant and animal species found nowhere else. The existence of sacred groves in the Western Ghats predates recorded history. In sacred groves, remnant forest patches are revered and protected by local communities, and these forests provide biological, social, and spiritual benefits.

With more than 13,000 sites documented across India, sacred groves are important at many levels. For conservationists, sacred groves can be seen as essential refuges for plants and animals struggling to survive in the face of rampant development and environmental destruction. For social scientists, sacred groves are valued as centers for community life. For the spiritually inclined, sacred groves transcend earthly bounds, allowing people to commune with gods and other powerful beings that offer protection, enlightenment, absolution, or guidance.

In this course, we seek to better understand the relationship between people and nature and will address specific questions about a sustainable future. What is the cost of misunderstanding or ignoring the spiritual dimension of sacred sites? How can models of sustainability be expanded to include local knowledge and local values? What unique opportunities do sacred sites provide for community participation in environmental stewardship?

The award-winning Applied Environmental Research Foundation (AERF) is our partner and host in India. AERF has worked with communities in the Western Ghats for more than two decades to support groundbreaking work on sacred groves and conservation. 

AERF logo


Prior to and following the field experience in India, students will complete coursework via Dragonfly Workshops’ web-based learning community as they apply their experiences to their home institutions.

Course Details
In-person travel dates:

July 1-9, 2024

Students to arrive at least one day before course start date and can depart the last day (very late evening) or the day(s) after the course concludes.
On the Web: Pre-travel preparations: February-March
Login to online course: April
Summer course: May 16-August 9
Fall course: Late August- early December
Credits: Summer course: 5 graduate credits

Follow-on Fall course: 2 graduate credits

All Miami University credits can be applied to the GFP or AIP (or other programs if approved)
Costs: Summer course: $3,550* + your own airfare to Pune, India.
* $3,550 calculated as = $455 per credit tuition x 5 graduate credits + $1100 program fee + $175 Miami global fee

Course Themes

  • Biodiversity of the Western Ghats
  • Understanding ecological, cultural, and social value of sacred groves
  • Spiritual ecology and conservation
  • Local ecological knowledge
  • Inquiry-driven learning
  • Participatory education
  • Community-based conservation

A typical day is likely to include:

  • Visits to sacred groves, temples, and other field conservation sites
  • Dialogue with experienced local conservationists
  • Student-led discussions on key course topics
  • Lectures
  • Engaging with local communities
  • Open inquiries
  • Journal writing
Jenn Beening on an Earth Expeditions trip to India


India is a spectacular country of tremendous biological and cultural diversity, a place where ancient traditions coexist alongside modern cities in one of the world’s largest democracies. The natural environments of India range from deserts to tropical forests, from beaches to Himalayan peaks. India has more than 400 wildlife sanctuaries and is home to elephants, hornbills, wild dogs, crocodiles, tigers, and rhinoceroses. As the birthplace of four world religions, India has helped shape cultures across Asia and beyond.

Planned Sites

Google Earth map of India with three locations marked. A second image has the locations zoomed in and labeled Velneshwar, Amba Wildlife Corridor, and Western Ghats

Western Ghats

All of our course locations lie in the Western Ghats, a lush and dramatic landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as one of the most important conservation regions on Earth. The rain that falls in the Western Ghats feeds many of India’s major rivers. We will be in the northern section of the Western Ghats (in the Sahyadris hill range), which has received comparatively little conservation attention.

Amba Wildlife Corridor

India is seeking to reverse a tragic decline of ecologically and spiritually important species by establishing and protecting a system of reserves and corridors. While in Amba, we can gain an appreciation for the ecological importance, impacts, and conservation strategies happening in this region including the spiritual aspects of hornbills, palm civet, tigers, fish tail palm, and other animal and plant species, in sacred groves. 


Sri Velneshwar is an ancient temple by the sea, located on the shores of the Indian Ocean. The colorful temple grounds are decorated with paintings and carvings depicting deities and local stories. Many plant and animal species frequent this area including monkeys and many species of birds.

(Course locations are subject to change.)

2024 Costs Include:

In addition to covering the price for five graduate credits of Miami University tuition, field course costs cover all basic expenses, including:

  • Meals (incidental snacks and drinks not included)
  • Lodging
  • Field station fees
  • Course activities (optional activities are not included)
  • Ground transportation (van, boat, train, etc., as needed)
  • Park entrance and guide fees

Course costs do not cover personal expenses, such as airfare to the course, personal gifts, or ancillary costs, such as passport fees, country entry fees, required course readers, and any additional course texts.

Airfare: To estimate fares applicants may wish to visit an online fare finder or call a travel agent. Bear in mind that airlines have seasonal fluctuations in fares.

Miami University also requires all international workshop participants to purchase travel health insurance for about $40. (Successful applicants will receive more details in their web-based learning community course workshop.) In some classes an additional textbook is required. In some countries, you may have to pay entrance and departure taxes/fees at the airport.

Because of support from Miami University, the course costs listed above are a fraction of actual program costs. Earth Expeditions recommends that accepted applicants to the program check with their school district or employer to see if professional development funds are available to further offset costs.

We offer some further ideas on Helping to Fund your Degree and Scholarships for Current Dragonfly Students

U.S. Students and Students Living Abroad

To support involvement by a broad range of professionals nationally and globally, Miami University discounts tuition for participants accepted to an Earth Expeditions graduate course. Applicants must be over the age of 18 and hold bachelor’s degrees. Upon successful completion of both the field and Web-based components of the Earth Expeditions course, participants earn seven graduate credit hours.

Students Seeking Undergraduate Credit

Undergraduate students at Miami University or elsewhere may apply for an Earth Expeditions course and earn five credits for the field component, with the option to complete two additional credits for the fall Web component. Normal Miami tuition rates apply, as do eligible summer tuition waivers and scholarships. Contact Project Dragonfly for more information.

Course Options for Miami Students

Are you a current Miami University undergrad or grad student interested in participating? Check out our Miami Students page to learn more about program requirements.

*Note that costs shown above are for graduate students only. Course costs for undergraduate students are based on each student’s tuition rate. If you have questions regarding your tuition promise rate, please contact the Bursar. 

Inquiry & Action Follow-on Course

The 2-credit follow-on course, Inquiry & Action, puts the Earth Expeditions course ideas and concepts into practice. Students in this course will choose a research topic and construct a multidisciplinary semester-long project of their choice that includes inquiry-driven learning, participatory education, and community-based conservation to experience and promote action in real-world contexts. Students will connect and collaborate with peers and their instructional team throughout the semester working to make a positive difference in their local communities. This class is a required part of the Global Field Program (GFP) master's course sequence. Inquiry & Action is recommended though optional for non-GFP students.

Course cost: $910 (2 credits)


Do you have questions? Go to our Frequently Asked Questions page for some answers.

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