Date of Thesis

5-7-2013

Thesis Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Type

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Religion

First Advisor

Stuart Young

Abstract

This thesis provides a critique of Western media articles concerning self-immolation in Tibet. I begin by illustrating how the Western media provides reductionist accounts of Tibetan self-immolation by depicting the act solely as a form of political protest in response to Chinese occupation. I argue that these limited portrayals of self-immolation can be attributed to the Shangri-La imagery that characterizes much of the Western conceptions of Tibet. Through Shangri-La imagery, both Tibetans and their Buddhist religion are portrayed as utopic, peaceful, and able to provide the antidote to solving Western problems relating to modernization and consumerism. After illustrating the ways in which Shangri-La imagery influences Western media portrayals of Tibetan self-immolation, this thesis explores the commonly disregarded Buddhist dimensions of the act. Looking to Buddhist doctrine, scripture, and history, this thesis establishes a clear relationship between self-immolation and Buddhism, which situates the act as being more complicated than mere political protest. I argue that these limited portrayals given by the Western media are problematic because they overlook a fundamental aspect of self-immolation, thus potentially misrepresenting Tibetans. This thesis explores the Buddhist dimensions of self-immolation as a possible way to further understand what has led more than one hundred Tibetans to perform this act during the time of political crisis.

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