Making Religion through Moral Practice in Colonial Burma: Intoxication, Women and Inter-religious Collaboration

Friday, 28 October 2022 | 10:00 to 12:00 EDT | Room 830, Eighth Floor, Kaneff Tower, York University and via Zoom

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Speaker:  Hitomi Fujimura, York Centre for Asian Research, York University

After the British’ deportation of King Thibaw, moral decay and impurity was seriously felt and concerned many in Colonial Burma. Out of fear, more than 20,000 females signed the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) petition, hoping to prevent the further spread of misconduct. Meantime, public talks and meetings on morality sprung up nationwide, and both Buddhist monks and laity took active roles. The immorality of alcohol and opium consumption and its dreadful consequence of falling to hell were commonly heard.

Focusing on the WCTU and local Baptist women, this presentation argues that the multiple religious communities, not only the majority Buddhists, mutually engaged in the moral movement and religion-making in Colonial Burma. Through textual analysis of the almost identical rhetoric and expressions employed by Christians and Buddhists, this paper illustrates how discussions on moral practice created a public space for religion in Burma and the centrality of women in the dynamic.

Hitomi Fujimura is a postdoctoral fellow at YCAR, York University. Her research interest is the history of the Baptist community in Burma. Her PhD dissertation focuses on the individual lives of the Karen Baptists in the nineteenth century and discusses the development of the Karen national assertion. She is currently working on the history of the Burmese Baptist community and its transnational connectivity.

This event is part of the Burma Past and Present: Religion, Ethnicity and Power, a series of readings and discussion of works in progress. We will be reading and discussing work in progress with the author. Please email to receive a copy of the reading.