Dr Martin Mills

Dr Martin Mills
MA (St. Andrews), PhD (Edinburgh)

Senior Lecturer

Dr Martin Mills
Dr Martin Mills

Contact Details

work +44 (0)1224 272622
The University of Aberdeen Department of Anthropology, G1 Edward Wright Building, Kings College Campus. Office Hours: Tuesdays, 2-4pm.


Dr. Martin A. Mills is Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland and Director of the Scottish Centre for Himalayan Research. He specialises in the comparative organisation and structure of governance in religious, state and medical institutions. He has previously lectured and researched at the universities of Edinburgh, St.Andrews and Sussex.

Dr. Mills' principal research focus is the anthropological study of Tibetan communities, in particular its religious and governmental institutions. Author of Identity, Ritual and State in Tibetan Buddhism: The Foundations of Authority in Gelukpa Monasticism (Routledge 2003), he has carried out fieldwork in Tibet, Ladakh, China, Northern India and Scotland over the last thirty years. He is a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute and member of the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth, as well as member of the International Association for Tibetan Studies and the International Association of Ladakh Studies. 

Dr. Mills is Secretary of the Cross-Party Group on Tibet within the Scottish Parliament, Chairman of the China Studies Group at Aberdeen and Academic Representative to Court in the University of Aberdeen.


Research Interests

All anthropologists tend to have two specialisations: one theoretical, the other substantive. 

Theoretically, Dr Mills' major research interest lies in the comparative study of authority - whether in political, religious, medical or educational spheres - as a function of legitimate governance. This is not simply in terms of the imposition of command, but also the creation and organisation of social and theoretical truths within populations, and the formation of consensus. Thematically, this core research focus involves a general specialisation in the comparative organisation and structure of governance in religious, state and medical institutions. 

In substantive and ethnographic terms, Dr Mills' primary research interest lies in the anthropology of Tibet and Tibetan-speaking areas, and in particular its religious and state life. Over the last three 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.

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.


As Director of the Scottish Centre for Himalayan Research, Dr Mills is Secretary of the Scottish Parliament's Cross-Party Group on Tibet, and a member of the 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 and environmental change on the Tibetan Plateau (see Publications). He is also Chairman of the Aberdeen Chinese Studies Group.

In doing so, Dr Mills has maintained a wide variety of fruitful collaborations, including amongst others:


Teaching Responsibilities

Research Supervision Areas

  • Political anthropology and the anthropology of the state
  • Medical Anthropology
  • Tibetan and Himalayan systems of governance.
  • Buddhist monasticism and ritual
  • Religion and the state
  • Modern religious movements and insurgencies

Postgraduate Taught

  • SL5010 Principles of Research Design
  • SL5006 Research Skills


  • AT2005 Political Anthropology (groups, nations and movements)
  • AT4525 The Constitutional Imagination (anthropology of the state)
  • AT3540 Medical Anthropology
Further Info

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.


Currently viewing:

Page 1 of 4 Results 1 to 10 of 32

  • Mills, MA 2018, Exorcising Mauss' Ghost in the Western Himalayas: Buddhist Giving as Collective Work. in Sangha Economies: Temple Organisation and Exchanges in Contemporary Buddhism.
  • Mills, MA 2018, 'Playing the Long Game? The Politics of Religious Revival in China and Tibet' Asia Dialogue. <> [Online] DOI: http://theasiadialogue.com/2018/06/15/playing-the-long-game-the-politics-of-religious-revival-in-china-and-tibet/
  • Mills, MA 2018, The Last Gift of the God-King: Narrating the Dalai Lama’s Resignation. in S Bhoil & E Galvan-Alvarez (eds), Tibetan Subjectivities on the Global Stage: Negotiating Dispossession. Studies in Modern Tibetan Culture, Lexington Books, London.
  • Mills, MA 2017, 'A strange modernity: On the contradictions of the neoliberal university' ANUAC, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 47-52. [Online] DOI: https://doi.org/10.7340/anuac2239-625X-2980
  • Mills, M 2017, 'Dividing the Third Pole: Beijing's Vision for the Tibetan Plateau' China Policy Institute: Analysis.
  • Mills, MA 2017, 'Review of Subject to Death: Life and Loss in a Buddhist World, by Robert Desjarlais: Chicago, IL, University of Chicago Press, 2016, 295 pp. including bibliography and indexes, 39 photographs, US$30.00 (paperback), ISBN 9780226355870', South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, vol. 40, no. 3, pp. 678-679. [Online] DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00856401.2017.1342901
  • Woodhouse, E, Mills, MA, McGowan, PJK & Milner-Gulland, EJ 2015, 'Religious Relationships with the Environment in a Tibetan Rural Community: Interactions and Contrasts with Popular Notions of Indigenous Environmentalism', Human Ecology, vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 295-307. [Online] DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-015-9742-4
  • Mills, MA 2015, 'The Dalai Lama’s secret temple goes to London' The Conversation. <> [Online] DOI: http://theconversation.com/the-dalai-lamas-secret-temple-goes-to-london-50483
  • Mills, MA 2015, 'The Perils of Exchange: Karma, Kingship and Templecraft in Tibet', Cahiers d'Extême Asie , vol. 24, pp. 189-209. [Online] DOI: https://doi.org/10.3406/asie.2015.1320
  • Mills, MA 2014, Who Belongs to Tibet? Governmental Narratives of State in the Ganden Podrang. in G Toffin & J Pfaff-Czarnecka (eds), Facing Globalization in the Himalayas: Belonging and the Politics of the Self. Governance, Conflict and Civic Action, vol. 5, SAGE PUBLICATIONS LTD, pp. 397-419.
Show 10 | 25 | 50 | 100 results per page