Plastic Skinscapes in Tibetan Buddhism

  • Trine Brox University of Copenhagen
Keywords: acrylic, aesthetics, material religion, materials, permanence, pollution, polyethylene, silicone


This article takes as its point of departure S. Brent Plate's (2012) compelling metaphor ‘the skin of religion’ to discuss the increasing presence and impact of plastics in the sphere of religion. What material and imagined properties of plastics allow them to be incorporated into the sacred domain? How are plastics experienced? What are the consequences of plastics’ increasing presence? The discussion pivots around observations of three forms of plastics used in contemporary Tibetan Buddhism: (1) acrylic shells protecting sacred text, (2) polyethylene jars containing votives and (3) silicone imitations of Buddhist lamas. The article focuses on the skinscapes co-constituted by these plastics, focusing on the affordances and enactments of plastics in the religious field, not only in terms of how acrylic, polyethylene and silicone are experienced, but also how they enact their material properties even beyond our sensual experiences of them. While the plastic materials protect and prolong the precious items that they contain or imitate, they also raise discussions about disposability, non-perishability, pollution and material doubt.

Author Biography

Trine Brox, University of Copenhagen

TRINE BROX is Associate Professor in Modern Tibetan Studies and the Director of Center for Contemporary Buddhist Studies at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Email:


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