The Way Out Is In
: An Ontological Exploration of the Political Imaginaries of Contemplative Activism

  • Suzanne Thalia Klein Schaarsberg

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis aims to study the political imaginations of contemporary contemplative activism as practices of world-making. Attention has been paid to how protest movements enact an alternative politics (i.e., one of resistance, a politics of affect etc.) and in recent years interesting tools have been developed to analyse the role of silence, affect and emotion as aspects of world politics and resistance. In addition, scholars outside of the discipline of IR have begun to investigate the links between contemplation, embodiment and social change. However, amongst these literatures there has not been enough in-depth engagement with the political imaginaries these movements put forward. In addition, whereas scholars have focused on the different worldviews (epistemologies) of protest movements, little attention has been paid to the different worlds (ontologies) activists produce. By studying contemplative activism as an encounter with ontological difference, this thesis addresses these limitations by asking what politics, subjectivity and change could be when contemplation and silence affect social change. It asks what ‘the world’ could be if it is changed through contemplative, nonsecular activism on an ontological level. By drawing on fieldwork undertaken in the Netherlands, Belgium and the United Kingdom, the thesis shows how politically relevant themes such as interconnection, peace and transformation can be re-configured ontologically by thinking through the political imaginaries that contemplative activists put forward. It displays how contemplative activism disrupts modern ontological dualisms such as inner/outer, esoteric/exoteric and means/ends. Methodologically, it deploys an ontological orientation towards difference to analyse how an experience of non-separation, non-representation and non-oppositionality shapes an alternative nondual experience of reality for contemplactivists. The thesis contributes to an understanding of a) the ontological politics of contemplative activism, b) the creation of multiple worlds in the secular ‘West’ and c) how an ontological approach to difference multiplies the political imaginaries of IR.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorJenny Edkins (Supervisor), Berit Bliesemann de Guevara (Supervisor) & Milja Kurki (Supervisor)


  • contemplative activism
  • anthropology of ontology
  • contemplation
  • world-making practices
  • soulful fieldwork

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