The Study of Buddhist Self-Immolation Beyond Religious Tradition and Political Context: The Necessity of “Protogetical” Analysis

By Easten G. Law.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: September 7, 2017 $US5.00

This article explores how scholarship on Buddhist self-immolation has changed between 1963 and 2013. Attention is given to how academic orientations and methods have evolved from early tensions between traditional exegesis of texts and sociopolitical analysis of context to recent literature utilizing interdisciplinary approaches that attempt to reconcile such tensions. This methodological shift can be interpreted via Delores Williams’s three-fold womanist hermeneutic. Early literature on Buddhist self-immolation generally falls within either the first or third movements of Williams’s methodology: building continuity with tradition or relating faith to politics. Utilized independently, these two movements are unable to provide a holistic understanding of self-immolation. Williams’s second movement of “protogetical” analysis remedies this problem by placing the act of self-immolation in relationship with a greater number of “cultural deposits,” non-traditional texts and mediums that speak to this practice across different times and places. “Protogesis” thereby bridges traditional textual exegesis and social analysis. This interdisciplinary turn to protogetical analysis is evidenced in recent studies on Buddhist self-immolation that expand the range of materials studied. This article argues this shift in method and perspective ought to challenge researchers of religious phenomenon to shift their attention toward more holistic cultural readings that acknowledge a plurality of meanings and motivations.

Keywords: Buddhism, Self-Immolation, Methodology, Religion and Politics

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp.25-41. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: September 7, 2017 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 459.986KB)).

Easten G. Law

PhD Student, Theology Department, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA