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Open Theology

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Violently Peaceful: Tibetan Self-Immolation and the Problem of the Non/Violence Binary

John Soboslai
Published Online: 2015-06-03 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opth-2015-0004


The paper investigates the conceptual dichotomy of violence and nonviolence in reference to the self-immolations that have been taking place in Tibet for the last several years. First using the insights of Hannah Arendt to distinguish between the categories of violent, nonviolent and peaceful, I approach the question of violence as the problem of acts that transgress prohibitions against causing harm. Using that heuristic, I examine the ways multiple ethical systems are vying for recognition regarding the selfimmolations, and how a certain Buddhist ambivalence around extreme acts of devotion complicate any easy designations of the act as ‘violent’ or ‘nonviolent’. I conclude by suggesting how any such classification inculcates us into questions of power and assertions of appropriate authority.

Keywords: Self-Immolation; Tibetan Buddhism; Violence and Nonviolence; Power; Transgression


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About the article

Received: 2015-02-17

Accepted: 2015-03-18

Published Online: 2015-06-03

Citation Information: Open Theology, Volume 1, Issue 1, ISSN (Online) 2300-6579, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opth-2015-0004.

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©2015 John Soboslai. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License. BY-NC-ND 3.0

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