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. 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
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:

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  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Mills, MA & May, SJ 2013, Self-Immolations in Tibet and China – 2013 Update: Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Tibet, Briefing Paper No.5. Scottish Parliament's Cross Party Group on Tibet.
  • Mills, MA 2013, 'The Opposite of Witchcraft: Evans-Pritchard and the Problem of the Person', Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 18-33. [Online] DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.12001
  • Mills, MA 2012, 'Ritual as History in Tibetan Divine Kingship: Notes on the Myth of the Khotanese Monks', History of Religions, vol. 51, no. 3, pp. 219-220. [Online] DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/662190
  • Mills, M 2011, Anthropology and Religious Studies. in J Gledhill & R Fardon (eds), The Sage Handbook of Social Anthropology. Sage Publications. [Online] DOI: https://doi.org/10.4135/9781446201077.n14
  • Mills, M & Scrimgeour, R 2010, Religious policy and state control in Tibet: Scottish Parliament cross-party group on Tibet, briefing paper 3. Scottish Parliament's Cross-Party Group on Tibet Briefing Papers, vol. 3, Scottish Parliament's Cross Party Group on Tibet.
  • Mills, M & Scottish Parliament's Cross-Party Group on Tibet 2009, Issues of Sovereignty in the Sino-Tibetan Dispute: Briefing paper No.2 of the Scottish Parliament's Cross-Party Group on Tibet..
  • Mills, M 2009, La double figure du moine: Monachisme et maisons. in A Herrou & G Krauskopff (eds), Moines et moniales de par le monde: La vie monastique au miroir de la parenté. Collection Religion et Sciences Humaines, Editions L'Harmattan, Paris, France, pp. 161-171.
  • 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 2008, Small Shoes and Painted Faces: Possession States and Embodiment in Buddhist Ladakh. in M Van Beek & F Pirie (eds), Modern Ladakh: Anthropological Perspectives on Continuity and Change. Brill Academic Publishers, Leiden, pp. 139-152.
  • Mills, M 2008, The 2008 Protests in Tibet: Main Facts & Analysis. Scottish Parliament's Cross-Party Group on Tibet Briefing Papers, vol. 1, Unknown Publisher.
  • 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, THL #T3108.
  • Mills, MA 2007, 'Roaring Mice: A comment on Ingold and Mesoudi, Whiten and Laland (AT 23[2])' Anthropology Today, vol. 23, no. 5, pp. 24-25. [Online] DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8322.2007.00540.x
  • Mills, M 2007, 'Whither the Straw Man? A Response to Toni Huber', The Tibet Journal, vol. 34, no. 4, pp. 47-56.
  • Mills, M 2006, The Silence in Between: Governmentality and the Academic Voice in Tibetan Diaspora Studies. in Critical Journeys: The Making of Anthropologists. Critical Journeys: The Making of Anthropologists, pp. 191-206.
  • Mills, M 2005, Funeral Practices in Tibet. in Davies, D. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Cremation. Davies, D. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Cremation, pp. 398-399.
  • Mills, M 2005, Living in Time’s Shadow: Pollution, Purifi cation and Fractured Temporalities in Buddhist Ladakh. in The Qualities of Time: Anthropological Approaches. vol. 41, Bloomsbury , pp. 349-366.
  • Mills, M 2004, Living in Time's Shadow: Pollution, Purification and Fractured Temporalities in Buddhist Ladakh. in Qualities of Time, ed. W.James & D.Mills. ASA Monograph 41. Oxford: Berg.. Qualities of Time, ed. W.James & D.Mills. ASA Monograph 41. Oxford: Berg., pp. 349-366.
  • Mills, M 2003, Identity, Ritual and State in Tibetan Buddhism: The Foundations of Authority in Gelukpa Monasticism. Studies in Tantric Traditions, RoutledgeCurzon.
  • Mills, M 2003, This Turbulent Priest: Contesting Religious Rights and the State in the Tibetan Shugden Controversy. in RA Wilson & JP Mitchell (eds), Human Rights in Global Perspective: : Anthropological Studies of Rights, Claims and Entitlements. ASA Monographs , vol. 40, Routledge, pp. 54-70.
  • Mills, M 2000, 'Vajra-brother, Vajra-Sister: Renunciation, Individualism and the Household in Tibetan Buddhist Monasticism', Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 17-34. [Online] DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.t01-1-00002
  • Mills, M 1998, 'In the Presence of the Teacher: Incarnate Lamas in Tibetan Buddhism', Cosmos, pp. 179-209.
  • Mills, M 1997, The Religion of Locality: Local Area Gods and the Characterisation of Tibetan Buddhism. in T Dodin & H Rather (eds), Recent Research on Ladakh 7: Proceedings of the 7th Colloquium of the International Association for Ladakh Studies, Bonn/Sankt Augustin, 12-15th June 1995. Recent Research on Ladakh, M. Bernecker und B. Krause , Bonn, Germany, pp. 309-328.
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