Home Institution

DePaul University

Publication Date

Fall 2012

Program Name

Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples


According to the ICT (International Campaign for Tibet) at least 90 Tibetan monks, nuns, and non-monastic Tibetans have committed self immolation since 2009, 73 (81%) of which have been proclaimed as deceased due to inflictions experienced as a result of the demonstrations; this only exists as the current statistic at the time the proceeding investigation was conducted. Though this number may initially seem somewhat small, it in fact shows a significant build-on to this trend over recent years. To many this practice comes across as quite striking, if not completely incomprehensible; to most the first method of protesting religious oppression and political persecution chosen would not be in the form of self immolation. Some publications, mostly in the form of journalistic articles, have written off Tibetan self immolation as a sign of desperation considering the situation between Tibet and China. And so the question explored throughout this article: Is Tibetan self immolation in fact an indication of what perhaps Western psychology might describe as desperation and/or depression, or is there rather a more emic, nuanced explanation of this practice that can only be unveiled through qualitative, emic research of an insider’s perspective? The unique melding of religion and politics makes these acts all the more complex, and therefore the platform in which the demonstrations occur upon is also investigated in a holistic manner. In this case, an insider’s perspective is to be considerd the viewpoint of the Tibetan people, both monastic and lay, rather than a viewpoint based upon the speculation of the international community. This study takes the form of a psycho-social analysis, taking an in-depth glance at the meaning of self immolation to Tibetans. The research conducted in order to produce this study was heavily qualitatively based, primarily composed of semi-structured interviewing and/or focus groups in order to achieve maximum data representativeness. The study also utilized a great amount of archival research as well, incorporating indications of Buddhist philosophy within the practice of self immolation and Buddhist views on self-immolation, as well as an extensive literature review on self immolation in itself, especially considering self-immolation in contexts other than Tibet. This study conducted was primarily located in-and-around Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj, India; the high Tibetan population in this region, not to mention proximity to political figures and leaders of the Tibetan community-in-exile, made this location ideal for finding the demographics necessary to make this piece as representative as possible.


Community Health | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social and Cultural Anthropology



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