The politics of emptiness
: religion, nonviolence and sacrifice in the Tibetan freedom movement

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis has two categories of contribution, the first of which is theoretical,
while the latter may be considered practical or applied. The thesis makes
theoretical contributions both to nonviolence theory and to the field of Girardian
studies. With regard to the former, the thesis challenges entrenched categorisation methods within nonviolence research that risk homogenising the movements under study. In demonstrating how Girardian theory can provide one additional analytical angle from which to view and understand nonviolent movements, it is argued that our analyses of these movements needs to be broadened still further.

The thesis also contributes to Girardian theory directly by challenging its most
problematic element: Girard’s insistence on the primacy of Christianity. By
bringing Girard’s ideas into conversation with Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, this
particular aspect of his thought is challenged, thereby making the rest of his
corpus more accessible (and more acceptable) to a multicultural audience.
Additionally, while Girard himself has very little to say about how his own style
of nonviolent ideals might actually be pursued in the contemporary world, this
thesis offers an original example of how his goals have been realised in a real-life political (and non-Christian) situation: the Tibetan freedom movement. Thus, the thesis aims to expand the range of Girard’s applicability by thinking about how his ideas could inform our understandings of contemporary political activity for Tibet.

Further to this, the applied aim of this thesis is to illuminate the internal dynamics of the Tibetan freedom movement. Although this movement has a strong collective identity, I seek to reveal internal disparities that may be preventing it from achieving positive results. My research in McLeod Ganj, a Tibetan refugee settlement in northern India, shows that members of the refugee population generally have strong opinions about what constitute acceptable nonviolent methods in their freedom movement, and believe that these are in confluence with the philosophy of the Dalai Lama, their traditional temporal and spiritual leader. However, through the application of Rene Girard’s analytical perspective, this thesis reveals a fundamental (and generally unrecognised) variation between the understandings of the public and the Dalai Lama with regard to nonviolence as practiced.
Date of AwardMar 2015
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorTamsin Bradley (Supervisor) & Sasee Pallikadavath (Supervisor)

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