Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Religious Studies

Reader 1

Zhiru Ng

Reader 2

Andrew Aisenberg

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Rights Information

© 2014 Alec M. Terrana


Popular literature on Tibetan Buddhism often overemphasizes the psychological dimension of the religion's beliefs and practices. This misrepresentative portrayal is largely traceable to the writings of the psychoanalyst C.G. Jung. By employing distinctly psychological terminology and interpretive strategies in his analyses of the Tibetan Book of the Dead and mandala symbolism, Jung helped to establish precedents that were adopted in subsequent analyses of the religion. Imposing a psychological lens on Tibetan Buddhism obscures other essential elements of the tradition, such as cosmology, physiology, and ritualism, thereby silencing the voices of Tibetans in analyses of their own practices. Jung's imposition of his own voice in place of that of Tibetans has commonly been criticized as an act of intellectually imperializing Orientalism that furthers Jung's personal aims of solidifying his system of analytical psychology. This thesis supports and demonstrates the validity of that critique through close analyses of Jung's commentaries on Tibetan Buddhism.

However, Jung’s psychoanalytic perspective and qualifying comments found elsewhere in his corpus ultimately contextualize his commentaries and reveal that his writings on Tibetan Buddhism should not be treated as shedding light on the religion. Rather, they offer an additional lens for understanding analytical psychology. Furthermore, Jung's perspective as a psychoanalyst demonstrates the inherent instability of Orientalist epistemology that attempts to make sense of Eastern cultures on Western terms. Derridean deconstruction of Jung's commentaries reveals that the laws of psychoanalysis subvert those of Orientalism, thus allowing us to undermine the Orientalist episteme in which Jung writes and creates the possibility for appropriating foreign cultural content differently