Dr Martin Mills

Senior Lecturer

MA (St. Andrews), PhD (Edinburgh)

Dr Martin Mills

Contact Details

Telephone: +44 (0)1224 272622
Email: m.a.mills@abdn.ac.uk
Personal website:


Address: Department of Anthropology, G1 Edward Wright Building, Kings College Campus


Dr. Martin A. Mills is Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland and Director of the Scottish Centre for Himalayan Research. Author of Identity, Ritual and State in Tibetan Buddhism: The Foundations of Authority in Gelukpa Monasticism (Routledge 2003), his principal research focus is the anthropological study of Tibetan communities, in particular its religious and governmental institutions. Over the last twenty years, he has carried out fieldwork in Tibet, Ladakh, China, Northern India and Scotland. He is a member of the International Association for Tibetan Studies and the International Association of Ladakh Studies, a member of the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth and a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

Dr. Mills is Secretary of the Cross-Party Group on Tibet within the Scottish Parliament and Chairman of the China Studies Group at Aberdeen.

Prior to coming to Aberdeen, he taught anthropology at the School of African and Asian Studies at the University of Sussex, and at the universities of St. Andrews and Edinburgh.

Research Interests

In ethnographic terms, my primary research interest lies in the anthropology of Tibet and Tibetan-speaking areas, and in particular its religious and state life. Over the last two decades, this has involved a progression of research projects focused on the ceremonial nexuses of Tibetan monastic and state life.Such projects have involved the formulation of new ways in which modern ethnographers of Tibetan regions can integrate their work with textual specialists and indigenous scholars to create an historical anthropology of the region.

On the theoretical front, my work has increasingly engaged with anthropological approaches to the reality of the state in Tibetan areas, and to questions of violence, perception and constitutional mythologies. Each of these are engaged with more central questions of how we understand authority and legitimacy, both in the Tibetan context and elsewhere.

More recently, I have been carrying out research on Tibetan modes of protest. My personal blog on this can be found at www.tibetprotests.wordpress.com.

Current Research

Ritual and State in Tibetan History

Since 2003, Mills has engaged in extensive research on the indigenous constitutional history of Tibet. This has involved three main areas of research: the study of the political history of the Ganden Podrang, the Dalai Lama's government at Lhasa from 1642 to 1959, and in exile since 1959; the philological study of medieval and modern manuscripts as they relate to Tibetan understandings of legitimate governance, in particular its own mythology of divine Buddhist kingship; and the ethnographic and historical study of the Ganden Podrang's ceremonial practices of statecraft.

At the heart of these issues is a theoretical concern with four issues:

  • The importance of ceremony and ceremonial understandings of statecraft - rather than mere belief - as the basis for the daily functioning and sovereignty of religious states.
  • The formation of mythological and constitutional and narratives as the basis for indigenous solidarities and political consciousness, both in the past and the modern day;
  • The study of indigenous relations with the land and landscape as an central aspect of ceremonial sovereignty.
  • The place of conflict and warfare in religious states such as historical Tibet.


Martin Mills is a long term member of the Scottish Parliament's Cross-Party Groups on Tibet and Cross-Party Group on China, and the Westminster All-Parliamentary Group on Tibet. In his advisory role for these groups, he has authored and co-authored parliamentary briefing papers on public protest, human rights, religious regulation, political sovereignty and international law (see Publications).

As part of the Scottish Centre for Himalayan Research, Mills maintains a strong and productive relationship with the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center, one of the world's principal sources on indigenous Tibetan historical and religious manuscripts.

Teaching Responsibilities

Research Supervision Areas

  • The anthropological study of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism;
  • Buddhist monasticism and ritual;
  • Religion and the state;
  • Modern religious movements and insurgencies.

Postgraduate Taught

  • SL5010 Principles of Research Design
  • SL5006 Research Skills


  • AT2004 Religion and Politics

External Responsibilities

  • Member, Executive Committee of the International Association of Ladakh Studies;
  • Member, International Association of Tibetan Studies;
  • Member, Scottish Parliament Cross-Party Group on Tibet;
  • Fellow, Royal Anthropological Institute;
  • Fellow, Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth.


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