Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Aberdeen
Unit of AssessmentAnthropology and Development Studies
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Political Science
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Philosophy and Religious Studies: Religion and Religious Studies
Summary of the impact
Mills has acted as invited advisor to the Scottish Parliament's
Cross-Party Group on Tibet since 2008. During this time he has drafted
four major briefing papers on Tibetan political, religious and human
rights issues: `The 2008 Protests in Tibet: Main Facts & Analysis'
(2008); `Issues of Sovereignty in the Sino-Tibetan Dispute' (2009);
`Religious Policy and State Control in Tibet" (2010); " Self-Immolation
Amongst Tibetans, 2009-2012' (2012). All of these papers have been
ratified by the Cross Party Group as its principal output to the Scottish
Parliament, and distributed to European parliaments and human rights
organisations. These papers have since been extensively used by the UK
Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Human Rights, as well as by human
rights and Tibet organisations.
1): Doctoral research was carried out by Mills at the University
of Edinburgh, 1992-7, on Tibetan Buddhist monasticism, and in particular
the structure of religious authority and the place of incarnate lamas (tulku)
such as the Dalai Lama in Tibetan religious and political thought and
practice, especially in comparison with ordinary Buddhist monks.
(2): This was followed by postdoctoral research at the University of
Aberdeen, 2000-2003, on the role of Buddhist ritual in the
internationalisation of Tibetan politics, including in particular the
Shugden religious controversy. This work sought to understand the
difficulties of applying modern political and human rights theory to
Tibetan constitutional affairs, and outlined instead the means by which
ritual performance and authority provided 'passive' forms of political
(3): Further research at the University of Aberdeen from 2003 to 2010
focused on the constitutional history of Tibet. Particular attention was
paid to understanding the history of the Dalai Lamas as the centrepiece of
a coherent set of constitutional ideas beyond mere religious charisma, and
as inheritors of Tibet's larger mythic history. This latter research
included a three-month research trip to Lhasa in the Summer of 2004, and
the extensive translation of Tibetan historical sources. This research has
sought to bring theoretical clarity to the role of the 'ceremonial state'
as a basis for Tibetan ideas of legitimate governance, and has clarified
our understanding of the Dalai Lamas within Tibet's wider constitutional
milieu. This research was funded by the University of Aberdeen, the
Carnegie Trust, the Frederick Williamson Memorial Fund, and the AHRC
Research Leave Scheme.
(4): From January to April 2012, Mills carried out research at
the University of Aberdeen amongst Tibetan refugee communities in
North-West India. This included research with the Tibetan
Government-in-Exile on democratic reform and on the recent spate of
self-immolations. The first of these was designed to elucidate Tibetan
understandings of democratic governance in the post-Dalai Lama context.
Overwhelmingly, this research demonstrated the enormous difficulties that
the Tibetan refugee elite had in constitutionally separating themselves
from the Dalai Lama's religious and political mandate, and how this was
moulding the constitutional reform process. Research on self-immolations
concentrated on two aspects: firstly, the relatively novel creation of
narratives of national patriotism amongst the last testaments of Tibetan
immolators themselves and the links between this and the Chinese
government's 'patriotic education campaigns' in Tibet throughout the last
twenty years; and secondly, the contrast between this and the statistical
rise of self-immolations within the Peoples' Republic of China as a whole
during the same period as those in Tibetan regions. In short,
self-immolation appears to be a Chinese mode of local resistance which has
been adopted by Tibetans in the last few years in accordance with a
distinctly Tibetan narrative.
References to the research
Mills, Martin A., 2000. `Vajra-Brother, Vajra-Sister: Renunciation,
Individualism and the Household in Tibetan Buddhist Monasticism'. Journal
of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 6(1); ISSN: 0025-1496.
Based on 19 months' doctoral research in the Western Himalaya.
Mills, M. 2003a. Identity, Ritual and State in Tibetan Buddhism.
London: Routledge. Reviewed in Journal of Asian Studies, 2004,
Vol. 63: pp 1122-1124; also Inner Asia 2005, Vol. 7.2, pp. 289-91.
Mills, Martin A., 2003b. `This Turbulent Priest: Contesting Religious
Rights and the State in Tibetan Shugden Controversy'. In Mitchell, J.
& R. Wilson (eds.) Human Rights in Global Perspective:
Anthropological Studies of Rights, Claims and Entitlements. (ASA
2001 Monograph). Routledge: 0-203-50627-8.
Mills, M. 2007. 'Re-Assessing The Supine Demoness: Royal Buddhist
Geomancy in the Srong btsan sgam po Mythology'. Journal of the
International Association of Tibetan Studies, vol 3.
Mills, M. 2009. 'This Circle of Kings: Modern Tibetan Visions of World
Peace', in P Kirby (ed.), Boundless Worlds: An Anthropological
Approach To Movement. Berghahn Books, New York, NY, USA, pp. 95-114.
Mills, M. 2012. 'Ritual as History in Tibetan Divine Kingship: Notes on
the Myth of the Khotanese Monks'. History of Religions, vol 51,
no. 3, pp. 219-238. Originally presented in 2006 as "Kingship and the
Constitutional Imagination in Tibet", plenary paper given at the Eleventh
Seminar of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, Königswinter,
Germany, August 27th-September 2nd, 2006.
Details of the impact
The research outlined above, along with Mills' role as
Co-Director of the Scottish Centre for Himalayan Research, was what led to
his being invited to act as the principal academic advisor to the Scottish
Parliament's Cross-Party Group on Tibet. This invitation was made on the
grounds of Mills' experience and involvement regarding the Tibetan
'Shugden controversy' from 1996-2003 (Mills 2003b), for which he carried
out research between 1993 and 2003, wrote an internal assessment for
Amnesty International following human rights allegations made by
worshippers of the deity, and dealt with media inquiries. Mills'
works (Mills 2003b and 2009) now represent major sources for public and
scholarly debate on this controversy.
In more specific terms, the research above contributed to the production
of four briefing papers for the Scottish Parliament's Cross Party Group on
Tibet in the following ways:
(1): Research Projects 1 and 2 (see above), and in particular the work on
the role and status of incarnate lamas within the authority structure of
Tibetan religious schools, contributed directly to the 2010 paper
"Religious Policy and State Control in Tibet", which outlined the
influence and structure of new Peoples' Republic of China regulations on
the recognition of incarnate lamas in Tibet.
(2): Project 3 (see above) involved substantial initial research into the
1987-90 protests in Tibet, and provided essential background data to the
demographic, geographical and ideological shifts represented by the 2008
protests examined in the parliamentary briefing paper, "The 2008 Protests
in Tibet: Main Facts and Analysis". The core conclusions of this paper
were presented to a closed meeting of scholars, Foreign Office officials
and representatives of human rights organisations at the University of
Cambridge in May 2008. It was later reproduced in abridged form by the
internationally-distributed Students for a Free Tibet Newsletter (http://data5.blog.de/media/521/2541521_bbfe98e4f0_d.pdf).
(3): Project 3 also involved substantial research on the history and form
of Tibetan claims to sovereignty and governance, and the difficulties of
squaring these with the modern constitutional claims of nation-states.
This history, and the constitutional problems implied, formed the basis
for some of the recommendations in the 2009 briefing paper, "Issues of
Sovereignty in the Sino-Tibetan Dispute".
(4): Research Project 4 (see above) contributed directly to the
production of the fourth briefing paper on recent Tibetan
self-immolations, which was ratified by the Cross Party Group on Tibet in
June 2012, from where it was disseminated to Scottish MPs, human rights
organisations, newspapers and Tibet organisations. Because of the urgency
of the issue, the briefing paper was produced simultaneously with the
development of academic research papers which are currently still in
production, but which were initially presented at the South Asian
Anthropologists Group seminar in Edinburgh in September 2012. The key
findings of this research were also formally presented to the Scottish
Parliament's Cross Party Group on Tibet and attendant members of the UK
Human Rights organisations on the 6th June 2012.
The first three of these papers were presented as evidence to the Foreign
Affairs Select Committee of the UK Parliament by the Tibet Support Group
in 2009. The Select Committee used these extensively as part of their
deliberations on the human rights situation in the Peoples' Republic of
China (PRC), published in its Human Rights Annual Report 2008.
Their examination of Mills' three reports constituted nearly 60%
of the PRC section (see esp. pp.EV145-7). In this regard, Mills'
primary research work — particularly of the late 1990s and early 2000s —
contributed directly to Foreign Office deliberations on the China human
In autumn 2013, a motion is to be put for debate to the Scottish
Parliament by Maureen Watt, MSP. A draft of the motion reads as follows:
"That the Parliament expresses sadness that at least 117 people have
self-immolated, often fatally, in Tibet since February 2009; understands
that these self-immolations have, with few exceptions, taken place in
Tibet itself and expresses concern at the State's attempts to prevent
accurate reports of self-immolation reaching the media and condemns the
criminalisation of victims' family members and, sometimes, witnesses in
the process; recognises the work of the Scottish Centre for Himalayan
studies at Aberdeen University and Grampian Tibet Support Group in
highlighting these issues, as well as supporting cultural and educational
links with Tibet and beyond."
The motion has been tabled but not debated yet because of the summer
Sources to corroborate the impact
Briefing papers for the Scottish Parliament and other groups:
Cross-Party Group on Tibet, 2008. `The 2008 Protests in Tibet: Main Facts
and Analysis'. Scottish Parliamentary Briefing Paper No.1.
Cross-Party Group on Tibet, 2009, `Issues of Sovereignty in the
Sino-Tibetan Dispute'. Scottish Parliamentary Briefing Paper No.2.
Cross-Party Group on Tibet, 2010. `Religious Policy and State Control in
Tibet' (2010). Scottish Parliamentary Briefing Paper No.3.
Cross-Party Group on Tibet, 2012. `Self-Immolation amongst Tibetans,
1997-2012'. Scottish Parliamentary Briefing Paper No.4.
The above briefing papers are available on the public site for the
Scottish Parliament's Cross-Party Group on Tibet: http://scotlandtibet.wordpress.com/ (also the University of Aberdeen Research Archive site:
- UK House of Commons — Foreign Affairs Committee (2009). Human
Rights Annual Report 2008. HC 557, Seventh Report of Session 2008-09 —
Report, Together with Formal Minutes, Oral and Written Evidence.
London: TSO (The Stationery Office). ISBN: 9780215540836. Also available
for viewing on Googlebooks.
Students for a Free Tibet Summer 2008 Newsletter. Presents page
long summary of Briefing Paper No.1 on 2008 protests in Tibet. Available
MSP: Convenor of the Cross-Party Group on Tibet, Scottish Parliament,
2012, will be able to corroborate the process of drafting, editing and
ratifying of `Self-Immolation amongst Tibetans, 1997-2012'. Scottish
Parliamentary Briefing Paper No.4.
Convenor of the Cross-Party Group on Tibet, Scottish Parliament,
2008-2011, will be able to corroborate the process of drafting, editing
ratification of `The 2008 Protests in Tibet: Main Facts and Analysis'.
Scottish Parliamentary Briefing Paper No.1; `Issues of Sovereignty in the
Sino-Tibetan Dispute'. Scottish Parliamentary Briefing Paper No.2; and
`Religious Policy and State Control in Tibet' (2010). Scottish
Parliamentary Briefing Paper No.3.
Details of the Parliamentary Motion (see para 4, above), acknowledging
the work of the Scottish Centre for Himalayan studies at Aberdeen
University, may be found here: