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Journal of Religion and Violence

Volume 1, Issue 1, 2013

Michael J. Walsh
Pages 71-98

States of Exception: The Violence of Territoriality, Sacrality, and Religion in China-Tibet Relations

The relationship between sovereign violence, constitutional language, territorial claims, and certain human rights such as the freedom of religion plays out in complex ways in China-Tibet relations with broad ramifications for other nation-states. This essay begins to explore some of these ramifications. In terms of Chinese sovereignty, Tibet is part of what China’s constitution refers to as “sacred territory” and as such is exclusively beholden to the Chinese state. To claim constitutionally that one’s sovereign territory is sacred, as in a space to be set apart precisely so as to be able to control it through a politicized inclusivity, is tantamount to the process of territorialization becoming a type of sacralization, a rendering of social and geographical space as inviolate. I argue that territorialization by the nation-state, in this case China, is in fact a form of sacralization bolstered by mythos and sovereign violence. Implicated in claims of sacrality is the language of human rights, and for the purposes of this paper, China’s constitutional claim of freedom of religion. To employ the term religion, however, is to unwittingly bind oneself to a European Protestant narrative and all the complications thereof. Both claims have deep implications for juridical constructions, the containment of populace, freedom of religion, and human rights in general.

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