Usually one of the first associations upon hearing ‘Sri Lankan Buddhism’ is either the religious violence that swept across the island in the recent decades, or the Pali canon and Theravada Buddhism. In this interview with Anja Pogacnik, Dr. Stephen Berkwitz doesn’t really speak of either.
Stephen Berkwitz doesn’t really speak of either. Instead, the interview focuses on Sri Lankan colonial past and how the presence of European rulers and Christian missionaries affected local Buddhism.
Pogacnik and Berkwitz discuss the effects of colonial missionaries on the solidification of a Buddhist religious identity in Sri Lanka and the far-reaching consequences of this turn on some contemporary Buddhist monks, who are turning to the Pali canon in search of ‘authentic Buddhism’. Berkwitz explores the connection of this turn to scripture with the presence of Protestant missionaries and the idea of ‘Protestant Buddhism’ in Sri Lanka, presenting some challenges to seeing the missionary influence as a straight-forward one. Exploring examples of the counter influences Buddhism had on Christian missionaries that came to Sri Lanka, Berkwitz concludes the interview by talking about the complex relationship and interplay of religion and power in the Sri Lankan context.
Listeners interested further in the authors Berkwitz mentioned in the interview can look into the works of Gananath Obeyesekere and Anne Blackburn. You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, choral scores, lunchboxes and more.
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