Buddhism’s Plural Pasts: Religious Difference and Indifference in Colonial Burma

Principal Investigator: Alicia Turner (Humanities)
Funding: Robert H. N. Ho Fellowship in Buddhist Studies, American Council of Learned Societies

Description: This project offers a genealogy of Buddhism and religious tolerance in Buddhist Southeast Asia, focusing on colonial Burma. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Buddhist institutions and the colonial state worked to construct increasingly reified concepts of religious identity through mechanisms of laws, built environment and the production of new centralized Buddhist authority focused on a discourse of the preservation of sasana. However, as a strong counterpoint multiple local heterodox Buddhist initiatives flourished, which interpreted Buddhism instead as a mechanism for movement, connection, and interaction that defied and deconstructed boundaries of religious difference and offered space for more pluralistic practices of identity and belonging.

While the focus of this project is mainly on Burma, a genealogy of how Buddhism and Buddhist identities became reified will offer a lens through which to understand Buddhist interactions and connections across Asia. The project joins the literature on Buddhism and colonialism (Blackburn, Hansen, Braun, Kim) to expand our views of modern Buddhism to look at marginalized, silenced and hybrid voices that defied dominant discourses of national or ethnic identity.

Related news:
Alicia Turner awarded Robert H. N. Ho Fellowship in Buddhist Studies