A crossroads of religious exchange and cooperation since the 19th century, northern Thailand is home to a unique blend of beliefs and communities that still exist to this day. More than 90% of Thailand’s population identifies as Buddhist but Islam, Christianity and various indigenous beliefs also play a meaningful role in culture and society. Spend three weeks in this fascinating region, starting in the cultural hub of Chiang Mai with extensive travel to surrounding destinations, learning more about the area’s unique mix of religions through lectures and immersive site visits, engaging directly with the communities that still adhere to their distinct spiritual beliefs. The course also emphasizes the cultural components of Southeast Asian religions, including art, architecture, food and rituals, all while exploring some of northern Thailand’s most significant cities, spiritual sites, ethnic minority groups and more.


Learn about Southeast Asia’s unique mix of religious traditions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and various ethnic minority belief systems

Travel extensively throughout northern Thailand spending time in its two culturally significant cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, as well as smaller, rural towns and even hill tribe villages

Explore some of the region’s most interesting experiences, including visiting the famous White Temple, a riverside boat journey and more

Get to know more about Thailand with an included Orientation and fun excursions throughout the program

Take advantage of the small program size (20 students maximum) for an inclusive, comprehensive experience taught by one of the region’s leading religion experts

Benefit from access to TEAN’s Chiang Mai Resident Coordinator and other in-country staff for continued support throughout the program

Combine this with another course from the other Summer in Thailand session for an extended summer experience



This course is offered during Session One of TEAN’s Thailand Summer Program. Students can select to enroll in one session for a three-week program (4 credits) or two sessions for a six-week program (8 credits). See more details on the Summer in Thailand program here.

About the Course

REL 245T Lived Religion in Southeast Asia

This course provides students with foundational knowledge of Southeast Asia’s diverse religious traditions combined with first-hand experiences visiting sacred sites and learning from Southeast Asian Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and highland peoples. Reading texts, histories and ethnographies of these traditions will introduce the religious lives and works of Southeast Asians directly while visits to Buddhist temples, Christian hospitals, Muslim communities, highland villages and more will allow students to see for themselves how diverse religious communities live in proximity and (fragile) harmony in northern Thailand. Additionally, field site lectures will emphasize the diversity of religious histories and traditions of Southeast Asia, and investigate how northern Thailand both reflects and challenges regional and global religious trends while maintaining local specificity.

The course will provide foundational knowledge of Southeast Asia’s major religious traditions while developing students’ abilities to write and think about diverse religious traditions with an emphasis on personal reflection, academic inquiry and ethical conclusions. Contact us to request a syllabus for this course.

Contact us to request a syllabus for this course.


Dr. Anthony Lovenheim Irwin

With a PhD in Asian Religions through the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Anthony Lovenheim Irwin’s research focuses on Thai Buddhism, Northern Thai History and Southeast Asian Religions. He is an expert on northern Thailand’s religious landscape with 13 years of experience living, working, conducting research, teaching and studying in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. In addition to his considerable studies and research, Anthony also draws upon his extensive network of local academics, artists, Buddhist craftspeople, monks and more to add even more local insight to the course content and students’ understanding.


Upon completion of the course, students will be issued with an Elmhurst University academic transcript. The course is worth 4 U.S. credits.

Elmhurst University, located in suburban Chicago, is accredited by the Department of Education of the State of Illinois, and by The Higher Learning Commission, A Member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.




The first week of the program is based in Chiang Mai where students will be introduced to not only the religions but the geography, history and ethnic make-up of Southeast Asia.

As a 700-year-old Buddhist center of learning and culture, Chiang Mai is home to hundreds of temples and still serves as northern Thailand’s cultural and urban hub. Along with visiting a number of the unique Buddhist temples, a visit to a local morning market will also reveal the region’s religious and ethnic diversity with Chinese ancestor shrines, Muslim traders, South Asian textile merchants and more all found in the same area.


From Chiang Mai, students will travel to Chiang Dao for a night (1.5 hours from Chiang Mai) to visit a remote Buddhist cave temple.


After Chiang Dao, students will spend a night in Tha Ton to visit Wat Thaton, an important Buddhist site on the Thai-Burmese border which reinforces course themes of sacred mountains and Buddhist relics.


The group will board a boat in Tha Ton to journey down the Kok River to Chiang Rai, retracing the ancient routes traversed by locals and later European travelers in the 19th century, through the region to Chiang Rai. This trip includes a stop at Tham Phra (Buddha Cave) just outside of Chiang Rai.

During the five nights spent in Chiang Rai, students will visit the province’s most famous Buddhist temples, including the “White Temple” (Wat Rong Khun) and “Blue Temple” (Wat Rong Suea Ten), before turning attention to Christian missionaries in northern Thailand. Christian missionaries had a significant historical impact on the religious, social and cultural fabric of northern Thailand and students will examine the early intermingling of Christians and Buddhists in Chiang Rai, as well as the lives of contemporary Thai Christians. The class will also explore Islam in Thailand, including Buddhist/Muslim conflicts in Thailand and Myanmar, the rise of Islamophobia in Thailand over the past 20 years and a visit to northern Thailand’s first modern mosque.

Before returning to Chiang Mai, students learn how to cook khao soi, a popular northern Thai curry noodle soup with Muslim roots.


Back in Chiang Mai, students will explore the various religious traditions and animist beliefs of the region’s ethnic minorities, or “hill tribes,” such as the Karen and Hmong. To conclude the course, students will visit a Karen village to learn firsthand about the community’s rituals and beliefs, as well as how their religion is incorporated into their methods of forest management.



  • 2.5 GPA
  • Currently enrolled at an approved degree-granting institution of higher education.
  • This program is best suited for students with an interest in religion and culture, but is also appropriate for fulfilling  general education requirements. There is no prerequisite nor specialized knowledge students need before taking this course.



Be introduced to Chiang Mai upon arrival with an Orientation that combines useful informative sessions with intriguing introductory cultural experiences. Experience a sensory overload as you learn about Thai culture and society, jumpstart your knowledge of Thai Buddhism with a visit to one of Chiang Mai’s glittering gold temples, practice speaking key Thai phrases and sample an array of deliciously diverse Thai cuisine. (All meals are included!)


In Chiang Mai, students stay in fully-furnished twin-share accommodation with other TEAN students that are located in a vibrant area, close to plenty of cafes, restaurants and street food.

Outside of Chiang Mai, students stay in simple (2- or 3-star) hotels or guesthouses in twin-share rooms.


Our team works with you start to finish through the study abroad process. Our program staff will help guide you through the application process to go abroad, then upon arrival in Southeast Asia, you will be met by on-site staff who will provide assistance throughout your time in Thailand.

Meet the Team

Program Dates

Summer 2021

This program not running for Summer 2021. Please check back for future available terms.

Application Deadline

TEAN has a rolling admissions process. Late applications may be considered. Contact TEAN if the application deadline has passed.

Program Capacity

This program accepts 15 students only. Early applications are advised as the program will close once capacity is reached. Students may be added to a waitlist.

Summer 2021 dates

This program not running for Summer 2021. Please check back for future available terms.

Application Deadline Mar 15
Arrival Day May 21
TEAN Orientation May 22
Ethical elephant park visit May 23
Class Starts May 24
Last day of class June 11
Program Ends June 12

Fees & Inclusions

Summer 2021

This course is not available for Summer 2021. To see what courses are available for this program, please visit the Summer in Thailand program page.


  • Full tuition (4 credits from Elmhurst University)
  • Guaranteed pre-arranged housing
  • Overseas health insurance, plus evacuation and repatriation insurance
  • Orientation Program with meals, activities and transportation
  • WiFi access in housing
  • Airport transfers and all course-related ground transport
  • Cultural events, excursions and field trips throughout the program
  • Some meals 
  • Ethical elephant park one-day visit
  • Extensive pre-departure counseling and information
  • Readings for all courses (provided as PDFs to download)
  • Staff and resources available 24/7 to provide assistance and recommendations during emergencies


  • International airfares (approx $1,200 – 1,400)
  • Some meals (approx $150-250)
  • Local transportation in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai for personal outings (approx $30-40)
  • Travel insurance ($350)


TEAN Scholarships

Apply for TEAN scholarships – starting at $1,000 – for the chance to receive money specifically for studying abroad. Each year we award thousands of dollars in need- and merit-based scholarships, diversity scholarships, a full ride scholarship and more. Visit our scholarships page for details!

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