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Buddhism Buddhism in Southeast Asia
by
Anne Blackburn

Introduction

The regional (for example, South, Southeast, and East Asia) and national (for example, Myanmar [Burma], Thailand) designations in use in the early 21st century are of recent vintage and may obscure our understanding of Buddhist histories in the region. There was and is considerable circulation of persons, objects, texts, and ideas across these boundaries. These crossed marine divides, political borders, and linguistic communities. Southeast Asian Buddhist communities shaped and were shaped by religious and other cultural practices beyond the region. Buddhism in early 21st-century Southeast Asia is often described as Theravada Buddhism, in contrast to Mahayana Buddhism found further to the north and east. However, historical and early 21st-century Southeast Asian communities reveal the impact of forms of Buddhism from several parts of the Buddhist world. Elements associated with both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism are found in the region. Moreover, Buddhists in Southeast Asia often identified themselves through other terms of association, and it is sometimes anachronistic to use Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism as key analytical categories.

Textbooks

Textbooks on Buddhism offer different balances of historical and ethnographic detail, and their textual emphases vary somewhat according to authors’ research interests. Few textbooks focus solely on Southeast Asian Buddhism. Swearer 2010 is an up-to-date and influential work, although Lester 1973 deserves attention despite its age. Several of the strongest textbooks treating Buddhism more broadly contain useful treatments of aspects of Buddhist thought and practice in Southeast Asia: Gethin 1998, Gombrich 2006, Harvey 1990, and Robinson, et al. 1996. Berkwitz 2006 is useful for its focus on modern Southeast Asian Buddhism. Wijayaratna 1990, while not strictly a textbook, is a suitable companion text for the monastic sections of the other works presented in this section.

  • Berkwitz, Stephen C., ed. Buddhism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2006.

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    Includes four substantial essays on Buddhism in Southeast Asia by 21st-century scholars, with a particular focus on modernization and colonialism.

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  • Gethin, Rupert. The Foundations of Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    Also available electronically. An introduction to Buddhist doctrine and philosophy drawing in part on Pali canonical materials that have strongly influenced Southeast Asian Buddhist communities. Especially useful for readers interested in Buddhist meditation and philosophy.

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  • Gombrich, Richard F. Theravāda Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 2006.

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    A revised edition of a classic text focused considerably on Sri Lanka. The treatments of early Buddhism and monastic culture are particularly strong.

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  • Harvey, B. Peter. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History, and Practices. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

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    A substantial introduction to diverse aspects of Buddhism with useful attention to ritual, cosmology, and community life in Southeast Asia.

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  • Lester, Robert C. Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1973.

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    Although more than thirty years old, several chapters of this book offer importantly nuanced views on Buddhist practice and social life. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 may be fruitfully read as a complement to other texts mentioned in this section.

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  • Robinson, Richard H., and Willard L. Johnson, assisted by Sandra A. Wawrytko and Thanissaro Bhikkhu. The Buddhist Religion: A Historical Introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1996.

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    An ambitious high-level historical treatment with a strong bibliography, shaped to some degree by a reformist Theravadin Buddhist perspective. It offers valuable accounts of monastic practice and Buddhist debate over doctrinal and disciplinary matters.

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  • Swearer, Donald K. The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia. 2d ed. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010.

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    A revised edition of a classic text; particularly useful as an introduction to 20th- and 21st-century Thai Buddhism. Attentive to the place of ritual and temple life in Buddhist practice.

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  • Wijayaratna, Mohan. Buddhist Monastic Life: According to the Texts of the Theravada Tradition. Translated by Claude Grangier and Steven Collins. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

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    A vivid and accessible picture of ideal monastic practice according to canonical Pali texts influential in Southeast Asian Buddhism.

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Anthologies

The 20th-century turn toward the study of local Buddhisms and Buddhist ritual is reflected in late 20th- and early 21st-century anthologies, which also provide valuable points of access to the thought and practice of early 21st-century modernist Buddhism in Southeast Asia and the impact of Southeast Asian Buddhism outside the region. Lopez 1995 contains important local-language materials, while Strong 2008 reflects a stronger focus on Pali and Sanskrit texts. Lopez 2002 provides short texts from Buddhist thinkers who have influenced modernist and convert forms of Buddhism.

  • Lopez, Donald S., Jr., ed. Buddhism in Practice. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

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    Contains several pieces related to Southeast Asian Buddhism that are useful for teaching. These relate to ritual, lay Buddhist practice, and meditation. See the texts translated in this book by Hallisey, Pranke, Swearer, and Walters.

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  • Lopez, Donald S., Jr., ed. A Modern Buddhist Bible: Essential Readings from East and West. Boston: Beacon, 2002.

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    A stimulating collection of readings from Buddhist thinkers active in the 19th and 20th centuries in Asia, North America, and Europe. Especially valuable for its access to Buddhist interpreters who have reshaped Asian Buddhisms for European and American contexts.

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  • Strong, John S. The Experience of Buddhism: Sources and Interpretations. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2008.

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    Published to accompany Robinson, et al. 1996 (cited under Textbooks). A wide range of valuable materials related to Buddha biography, cosmology, and monastic life. For Southeast Asian Buddhism, see chapters 1, 2, 3, and 6. These materials are also suitable for use with textbooks other than Robinson, et al. 1996.

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Reference Works

Reference works for the field reflect the rapid growth of Buddhist studies as a discipline and its increasing attention to local languages, histories, and practice and the aim to integrate Buddhist studies more strongly with disciplines such as history, anthropology, and postcolonial studies. In addition to the standard encyclopedias (Buswell 2004 and Jones 2005), the multivolume Cambridge History of South East Asia (Tarling 1999) provides accessible thematic historical treatments of subregions and periods. Lopez 2005 offers theoretically self-conscious short pieces on key terms used in Buddhist studies. Keown and Prebish 2009 offers valuable points of access to work on Euro-American Buddhism and socially engaged Buddhism. Readers seeking English translations of Buddhist canonical texts will find them on the website Access to Insight. See also Literature and Language for relevant reference works.

Illustrated Guides

Although illustrated guides, such as Bechert and Gombrich 1984 and Trainor 2001, often offer articles too short to be of great use in teaching, these brief treatments may be of interest to readers initiating the study of Buddhism. They are best complemented by the works listed under Textbooks.

Inscriptions

Published collections of inscriptions, although often difficult to search, offer valuable clues about ritual activity and economic practices related to Buddhist lands, textual production, and intellectual life. The collections of inscriptions in this section cover royal and nonroyal donations and the construction and maintenance of religious sites. Ū Phe Moṅʻ Taṅʻ 1934-1956 are the products of colonial-period scholarship, while Pou 1989–2001 reflects a new era of French-supported scholarship in the region after the political instabilities of the mid-20th century. Recueil des inscriptions du Laos separates Lao from Thai or Siamese materials, in contrast to Coedès 1924. Epigraphia Zeylanica (Sri Lanka Archaeological Department 1904–2001) is a remarkable effort by the Sri Lankan Department of Archaeological Survey, which has continued work since independence in 1948 despite the country’s economic and political hardships.

Manuscript Catalogues

Our understanding of the histories of Buddhist texts, literatures, and devotional practice in Southeast Asia remains very limited. Relatively few manuscript collections have been catalogued, although good work is underway in mainland Southeast Asia. Existing manuscript catalogues are a resource for advanced scholars of Buddhism. They introduce literary genres related to Buddhist practice and intellectual life and offer clues to the historical relationships between languages. These catalogues contain doctrinal and ritual texts as well as diverse additional materials relating to magic, medicine, and other sciences, cosmopology, grammar, and so forth. Catalogues contain annotations in English and may include brief translations. Bechert, et al. 1978–2007 contains manuscripts in Burmese script composed in Pali, Sanskrit, and Burmese. Similarly, Somadasa 1987–1995 catalogues texts in Sinhala script composed in Pali, Sanskrit, and Sinhala. Skilling and Santi 2002 and Skilling and Santi 2004 reflect Pali and vernacular languages from the region.

Journals

Articles published in Southeast Asia area studies journals are often valuable for scholars of Buddhism in Southeast Asia. For those interested in the history of art, archaeology, and anthropology in relation to the study of Buddhism, Aséanie, Bulletin de l’École Français d’Extrême-Orient, Udaya, and Journal of the Siam Society are especially important resources. The specialist Buddhist studies journals, Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies and Journal of the Pali Text Society, tend more toward textual and philosophical studies rooted in Pali Buddhist canonical and commentarial materials. Crossroads, Journal of Burma Studies, and Sri Lanka Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences combine regional and Euro-American scholarship on Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), and Sri Lanka.

Historical Background

Sri Lanka is often considered part of the South Asian region. However, when studying the history of Buddhism in Asia, it is productively viewed in close connection with Southeast Asia as well as South Asia. In some cases, it is most helpful to think of “southern Asian” Buddhist communities and practices that formed in regions we now tend to separate as South and Southeast Asia. Although much scholarship on Buddhism in Southeast Asia focuses on patterns of influence running east and south from mainland South Asia into Southeast Asia, it is important to remember that Southeast Asian Buddhisms took shape at the nexus of land and maritime networks of trade and other cultural exchanges running both east and west. Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, although primarily associated with Chinese cultural expressions of Buddhism and with Islam in the early 21st century, were earlier important sites for Buddhist practice and intellectual vitality. Substantial connections remain between Buddhist communities in southwestern China and the Thai-Lao region.

Regional Networks

An early and influential strand of French scholarship represented by Coedès 1968 and Mus 1975 considered the influence of South Asian religious and other cultural forms on Southeast Asia. Complex forms of state formation and related ritual were attributed to South Asian influence. Although the erudition of such works remains respected and Mus 1975 has influenced subsequent generations of scholarship on Buddhist kingship, such studies have been criticized for insufficient attention to local Southeast Asian cultural strength and agency. Another approach, indicated by Hazra 2002, examines the formation of Southeast Asian Buddhist communities through translocal monastic networks. This emphasis on the influence of traveling monastics is not contested, but there is a growing awareness in the field that the key literary and inscriptional sources for such a narrative must be read more cautiously, with increased attention to their rhetorical intent. Art historical approaches, such as Leoshko 1988, provide a useful balance, allowing historians to track patterns in the flow of objects and the religious practices associated with them. Collins 1998 marks a turn to the study of mentalities and has influenced a new generation of scholarship on the history of Pali literature in the region, including Veidlinger 2006. Hansen 2007 and Blackburn 2010 reflect an interest in colonial-period Buddhist networks and the study of patron-client relationships made possible by colonial-period economic and political changes.

  • Blackburn, Anne M. Locations of Buddhism: Colonialism and Modernity in Sri Lanka. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

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    Treats southern Asian Buddhist networks in a time of intensifying colonial presence and religious debate and argues for the continued importance of certain precolonial forms of knowledge and social strategy.

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  • Coedès, George. The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1968.

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    A classic study of the ways Southeast Asian polities adopted Indic cultural forms, including those related to Hinduism and Buddhism.

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  • Collins, Steven. Nirvana and Other Buddhist Felicities. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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    An influential study of the Pali imaginaire in southern Asia with attention to premodern agricultural economies and state-monastic relations. Includes subtle textual analyses and some new translations of Pali texts.

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  • Hansen, Anne Ruth. How to Behave: Buddhism and Modernity in Colonial Cambodia, 1860–1930. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007.

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    An account of Cambodian-Thai Buddhist contacts during the French colonial period and an exploration of what constitutes a “modernist” expression of Buddhism.

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  • Hazra, Kanai Lal. History of Theravāda Buddhism in South-East Asia: With Special Reference to India and Ceylon. 2d ed. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2002.

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    Originally published in 1982. Drawing on inscriptions and Buddhist narrative records, the author attempts to reconstruct a history of Buddhist movements in the region with emphasis on royal patronage of monastic embassies.

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  • Leoshko, Janice, ed. Bodhgaya: The Site of Enlightenment. Bombay: Marg, 1988.

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    Valuable essays on art historical and ritual connections between Indian and Southeast Asian Buddhist communities. Useful methodologically for scholars wishing to combine textual and material culture studies.

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  • Mus, Paul. India Seen from the East: Indian and Indigenous Cults in Champa. Translated by I. W. Mabbett and edited by I. W. Mabbett and D. P. Chandler. Clayton, Victoria, Australia: Centre of Southeast Asian Studies, Monash University, 1975.

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    French original published in 1933. An accessible introduction to the author’s interest in Indic influences on Southeast Asian ritual practice. While dated, this work remains an importantly creative methodological piece between archaeological, textual, and ethnographic evidence.

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  • Veidlinger, Daniel M. Spreading the Dhamma: Writing, Orality, and Textual Transmission in Buddhist Northern Thailand. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006.

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    Important in part for developing analytical connections among Buddhism, literacy, and cultural change in Southeast Asia.

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Buddhist Schools and Lineages in Southeast Asia

Several doctrinal schools and monastic ordination lineages reached Southeast Asia through the centuries. It is possible to identify some expressions of Southeast Asian Buddhism more closely with Mahayana Buddhism (Williams 2009) or with Theravada Buddhism (Gombrich 2006), and Southeast Asian Buddhism is often referred to as Theravada Buddhism, as in Hazra 2002. However, as Strong 1992 indicates, ritual and philosophical inclinations associated with several Śrāvakayāna schools influenced Southeast Asian Buddhism. Moreover, Mahayana Buddhism was itself internally diverse and formed only gradually in the early centuries of the Common Era. Skilling 2001 suggests sources of evidence that reveal the complex doctrinal and ritual influences on Southeast Asian Buddhism, bearing in mind that transmissions from more than one Buddhist cultural and intellectual location shaped any Southeast Asian site. While some Southeast Asian Buddhist monks and intellectuals associated with the Theravadin/Vibhajjavādin school, other forms of identification existed, especially related to monastic lineage, as Bizot 1988 and Skilling 1997 indicate. Collins 1998 suggests the benefits of considering Southeast Asian, or southern Asian, Buddhist communities as formed by shared textual cultures or mentalities, such as one oriented toward a Pali Buddhist textual corpus that was increasingly popular in the region from the 11th century forward.

  • Bizot, François. Les traditions de pabbajjā en Asie du Sud-Est. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1988.

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    A pathbreaking history of monastic lineage histories in Southeast Asia.

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  • Collins, Steven. Nirvana and Other Buddhist Felicities. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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    An influential study of the Pali imaginaire in southern Asia, useful for thinking about intellectual and social life in Theravadin or Sīhala Saṅgha communities in Southeast Asia.

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  • Gombrich, Richard F. Theravāda Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 2006.

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    A revised edition of a classic text focused considerably on Sri Lanka but with valuable treatments of early Buddhism and monastic culture.

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  • Hazra, Kanai Lal. History of Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia: With Special Reference to India and Ceylon. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2002.

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    Drawing on inscriptions and Buddhist narrative records, the author attempts to reconstruct a history of Buddhist movements in the region. Emphasizes post-11th-century transmissions associated with Theravada Buddhism and the Sīhala Saṅgha.

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  • Skilling, Peter. “The Advent of Theravāda Buddhism to Mainland South-East Asia.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 20.1 (1997): 87–112.

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    Examines evidence for the presence of Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia during the early centuries of the Common Era and explores non-Lankan (Sri Lankan) sources for its transmission.

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  • Skilling, Peter. “The Place of South-East Asia in Buddhist Studies.” Buddhist Studies (Bukkhyō Kenkyū) 30 (2001): 1–17.

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    A stimulating discussion of sources that might be used to further clarify the history of Buddhist Southeast Asia.

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  • Strong, John S. The Legend and Cult of Upagupta: Sanskrit Buddhism in North India and Southeast Asia. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

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    A learned and creative exploration of evidence for the transmission of Sanskrit Buddhist texts and ritual orientations to Southeast Asia.

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  • Williams, Paul. Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 2009.

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    Although not concerned with Southeast Asian Buddhism, this volume offers a valuable introduction to intellectual and ritual developments in South Asia that helped shape expressions of Southeast Asian Buddhism.

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Literature and Language

The literary and linguistic history of Southeast Asian Buddhism is extraordinarily rich and complex owing to cultural flows from South and East Asia as well as those within the region plus contact with a wider West Asian and Middle Eastern world.

Prestige and Ritual Languages

Two translocal prestige languages with mainland South Asian roots have dominated Southeast Asian Buddhisms. These languages are Pali and Sanskrit. Southeast Asian Buddhist communities are historically associated with both the Sanskrit cosmopolis (Pollock 1996) and the Pali imaginaire (Collins 1998). Pali has served as the canonical and dominant ritual language for Buddhists associated with Theravada Buddhism and the Sīhala Saṅgha, as Blackburn 2001 and Veidlinger 2006 discuss. Sanskrit provided the same function for Buddhists associated with Mahayana Buddhism and some non-Theravadin Śrāvakayāna schools, although Sanskrit texts often remained important to scientific knowledge and protective magic even where Pali was the dominant prestige language.

  • Blackburn, Anne M. Buddhist Learning and Textual Practice in Eighteenth-Century Lankan Monastic Culture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

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    A study of how Lankan (Sri Lankan) monks used prestige language in monastic competition and Buddhist institution formation.

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  • Collins, Steven. Nirvana and Other Buddhist Felicities. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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    An influential study of the Pali imaginaire in southern Asia formed by a shared orientation to canonical Pali Buddhist texts.

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  • Pollock, Sheldon. “The Sanskrit Cosmopolis, 300–1300: Transculturation, Vernacularization, and the Question of Ideology.” In Ideology and Status of Sanskrit: Contributions to the History of the Sanskrit Language. Edited by Jan E. M. Houben, 197–247. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1996.

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    An influential and provocative thesis on the extension of Sanskrit literary and political practice in Southeast Asia.

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  • Veidlinger, Daniel M. Spreading the Dhamma: Writing, Orality, and Textual Transmission in Buddhist Northern Thailand. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006.

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    Important in part for developing analytical connections among Buddhism, Pali textual production, literacy, and cultural change in Southeast Asia.

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Buddhist Genres and Literatures

Pali, Sanskrit, and local literary languages were used in Buddhist scholarship, including canonical commentary, and for many devotional compositions. The study of the relationship between translocal and local languages in particular historical contexts is still in its infancy. Major works for the field are Bode 1966, Collins 2003, Godakumbura 1955, Hallisey 2003, Hinüber 1996, McDaniel 2008, and Norman 1983. In addition to the works cited here, see those listed under Inscriptions, Manuscript Catalogues, and Primary Sources for the Study of Regional Buddhist History.

  • Bode, Mabel Haynes. The Pali Literature of Burma. London: Luzac, 1966.

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    A foundational study of Burmese Pali genres and major works. It is now superseded by studies of individual texts, but there is no other comprehensive study in English.

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  • Collins, Steven. “What Is Literature in Pali?” In Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia. Edited by Sheldon Pollock, 649–688. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

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    An introduction to genres and rhetorical aims that addresses Southeast Asian as well as South Asian Pali texts.

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  • Godakumbura, C. E. Sinhalese Literature. Colombo, Sri Lanka: Colombo Apothecaries, 1955.

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    A comprehensive English-language introduction to Sinhala genres related to Buddhism. Should be complemented by Sannasgala, P. B. Sinhala Sahitya Vamsaya. Colombo, Sri Lanka: Lake House 1964.

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  • Hallisey, Charles. “Works and Persons in Sinhala Literary Culture.” In Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia. Edited by Sheldon Pollock, 689–746. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

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    An introduction to Sinhala literary practice with subtle attention to the relationships between literature in Sanskrit, Pali, and Sinhala in Sri Lanka.

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  • Hinüber, Oskar von. A Handbook of Pāli Literature. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1996.

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    Brief and accessible entries on canonical and noncanonical Buddhist texts from southern Asia, including a chapter devoted specifically to Southeast Asian composition. Valuable for the range of genres treated, including letters, inscriptions, and cosmological texts. Specialists should also see Norman 1983.

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  • McDaniel, Justin Thomas. Gathering Leaves and Lifting Words: Histories of Buddhist Monastic Education in Laos and Thailand. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008.

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    An ambitious study that draws on manuscript and art-historical evidence as well as printed texts, with useful novel perspectives on the effects of Thai Buddhist centralization in the modern period.

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  • Norman, K. R. Pali Literature. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1983.

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    A comprehensive and learned reference work on Pali Buddhist literature.

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  • Osipov, Yuriy M. “Buddhist Hagiography in Forming the Canon in the Classical Literatures of Indochina.” In The Canon in Southeast Asian Literatures. Edited by David Smyth, 1–7. Richmond, UK: Curzon, 2000.

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    A brief but illuminating account of the impact of Buddhist hagiography on ancient and medieval belles lettres.

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Buddhist Kingship and Monastic Politics

The relationship between kings and Buddhist monastics has received much attention among scholars of Buddhism. One strand of scholarship, well expressed in the articles collected in Smith 1978, explored ways in which Buddhist symbols and royal relations with Buddhist monastics were used to claim and defend the legitimacy of rule. Heine-Geldern 1942 takes a less symbolic approach, arguing for the transformative effects of a magical parallelism between the worlds of gods and kings. Another, evident in Tambiah 1976 and Carrithers 1979, develops a more structuralist interpretation of the relationships between kingship and asceticism in Buddhist polities. Buddhist monastic landholders and their relationship to the state have been examined with respect to medieval Southeast Asian agricultural practice. Aung-Thwin 1985 argues for a causal relationship between monastic reform and royal economic and political interests. It is usefully read in conversation with Gunawardhana 1979, which provides a sophisticated account of relationships between elite patrons and monastic institutions. Although the impact of regional dynastic politics on Buddhist institutional life has not yet received adequate attention, Walters 2000 offers a suggestive intervention. While early scholarship stressed the role of kings as primary agents in the reform of monastic institutions, late-20th- and early 21st-century scholarship, such as Charney 2006, stresses the impact of monastic elites.

  • Aung-Thwin, Michael. Pagan: The Origins of Modern Burma. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1985.

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    An influential and controversial account of medieval Burmese political economy, royal intervention in monastic institutions, and landholding.

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  • Carrithers, Michael. “The Social Organization of the Sinhalese Sangha in an Historical Perspective.” In Contributions to South Asian Studies. Edited by Gopal Krishna, 121–136. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1979.

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    Argues for enduring patterns of decline and revival in Buddhist monastic life.

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  • Charney, Michael W. Powerful Learning: Buddhist Literati and the Throne in Burma’s Last Dynasty, 1752–1885. Ann Arbor: Centers for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan, 2006.

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    Investigates the impact of regional monastic politics on royal patronage and Buddhist textual developments.

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  • Gunawardhana, R. A. L. H. Robe and Plough: Monasticism and Economic Interest in Early Medieval Sri Lanka. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1979.

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    A groundbreaking study of the relationships between kings and monasteries in medieval Sri Lanka focused on the Anuradhapura period. Includes frequent references to Sri Lankan inscriptions as well as a discussion of monastic education and textual culture.

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  • Heine-Geldern, Robert. “Conceptions of State and Kingship in Southeast Asia.” Far Eastern Quarterly 2 (1942): 15–30.

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    A classic piece suggesting that royal buildings and practices intentionally paralleled the world of the gods in order to magically enliven the realm.

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  • Keyes, Charles F. “Structure and History in the Study of the Relationship between Theravāda Buddhism and Political Order.” Numen 25.2 (1978): 156–170.

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    A valuable and insightful rejoinder to Tambiah 1976 stressing historical particularity and individual agency in Thai Buddhist politics.

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  • Smith, Bardwell L., ed. Buddhism and Legitimation of Power in Sri Lanka. Chambersburg, PA: Anima, 1978.

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    Contains seminal essays on the topic, including useful articles on royal ritual.

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  • Tambiah, Stanley Jeyaraja World Conqueror and World Renouncer. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

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    A classic study of the historical and late 20th-century relationship between Buddhist kings and monastics with special reference to Thailand. Productively read in conversation with Keyes 1978.

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  • Walters, Jonathan S. “Buddhist History: The Sri Lankan Pāli Vaṃsas and Their Community.” In Querying the Medieval: Texts and the History of Practices in South Asia. Edited by Ronald Inden, Jonathan Walters, and Daud Ali, 99–164. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    A valuable and original reading of Buddhist historical texts in relation to shifting political formations in southern Asia. While focused on Sri Lanka, the arguments are stimulating for comparative work beyond the island.

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Primary Sources for the Study of Regional Buddhist History

In addition to the works listed under Manuscript Catalogues and Inscriptions, there are useful translations of Buddhist historical narratives that provide local and regional medieval Buddhist perspectives on the origins and spread of Buddhist traditions and practices in the region. Mahānāma 1912 is an early example of such works, which influenced subsequent compositions in Southeast Asia. Gray 2001, Pe Maung Tin and Luce 1923, and Law 1952 offer three Burmese perspectives on the narration of Buddhist monastic history, while Jayawickrama 1978 and Sommai Premchit and Swearer 1977 do the same for what is now Thailand. Swearer and Sommai Premchit 1998 and Notton 1932 reveal how Buddhist authors narrated the history of sacred landscape and ritual objects.

  • Gray, James, trans. Buddhaghosuppatti. London: Pali Text Society, 2001.

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    A fascinating account, perhaps dating to the 15th century, of the earlier Pali commentator Buddhaghosa, including his southern Asian travels. Originally published in 1892.

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  • Jayawickrama, N. A. The Sheaf of Garlands of the Epochs of the Conqueror. London: Pali Text Society, 1978.

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    Translation of Thera Ratanapañña’s Jinakālamālī. A 16th-century account of Buddhist royal and monastic activities set against the history of Buddha biography and the establishment of Buddhist communities in the Thai-Lao regions. Especially valuable for stories of relics and Buddha images celebrated in what is now northern Thailand. Originally published in 1962.

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  • Law, Bimala Churn, trans. The History of the Buddha’s Religion. London: Luzac, 1952.

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    Translation of Paññāsāmi’s Sāsanavaṃsa. A mid-19th-century account of Buddhist texts and monastic lineages in southern Asia based on a Burmese text dating to the 1830s.

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  • Mahānāma. Mahāvaṃsa. Translated from Pali by Wilhelm Geiger. London: Frowde, 1912.

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    Composed around the late 5th century, this text chronicles royal and monastic history in the island, composed at least partly in the service of intermonastic politics.

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  • Notton, Camille, trans. The Chronicle of the Emerald Buddha. Bangkok, Thailand: Bangkok Times, 1932.

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    Describes the medieval voyages and political-cum-devotional adventures of a famous Southeast Asian Buddha image.

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  • Obeyesekere, Ranjini, trans. Jewels of the Doctrine: Stories of the Saddharma Ratnāvaliya. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.

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    A delightful translation of 13th-century Buddhist stories in Sinhala. Although a discussion of such narrative literature is beyond the scope of this bibliographic essay, the introduction provides an evocative sense of oral transmission and storytelling in a Buddhist context.

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  • U Pe Maung Tin, and G. H. Luce, trans. Glass Palace Chronicle of the Kings of Burma. London: Oxford University Press, 1923.

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    A Burmese text from the 1820s that offers an account of the establishment of Buddhist communities and relics in Burma (Myanmar) from southern Asia.

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  • Sommai Premchit, and Donald K. Swearer, trans. “A Translation of Tamnān Mūlasāsanā Wat Pā Daeng: The Chronicle of the Founding of Buddhism of the Wat Pā Daeng Tradition.” Journal of the Siam Society 65.2 (1977): 73–110.

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    A fascinating medieval account of monastic travel and the establishment of Buddhism in what is now northern Thailand.

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  • Swearer, Donald K., and Sommai Premchit, trans. The Legend of Queen Cāma: Bodhiraṅsī’s Cāmadevīvaṃsa; Translation and Commentary. Albany: State University New York Press, 1998.

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    A 15th-century Pali chronicle treating the history of Buddhism in what is now northern Thailand, with an excellent introduction.

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Colonialism

The study of Buddhism and colonialism is still a fairly new field and is changing rapidly. The history of Southeast Asian Buddhism in relation to colonialism is understandably complex, given the doubled presence of French (Edwards 2007 and Hansen 2007) and British (Malalgoda 1976, Obeyesekere 1970, and Blackburn 2010) colonial regimes in the parts of the region treated in this essay. Moreover, Thailand, though not formally colonized, came under considerable pressure from the colonial regimes while also drawing northern and southern territories into a tighter grip in ways that some scholars now describe as an internal and perhaps imitative colonialism. Scholars debate the degree to which colonial forms of knowledge and preferences in relation to religion and education transformed local Buddhist culture. Blackburn 2010 emphasizes the importance of precolonial knowledge forms and local variations in the reception of colonial practice, sharing the Keyes 1977 interest in the Buddhist dimensions of political resistance. Edwards 2007 and Hansen 2007 stress the lasting impact of colonial projects. Malalgoda 1976 emphasizes the religious impact of social and economic change, as does Obeyesekere 1970, though with a larger psychological dimension. Hallisey 1995 and Jory 2002 explore the joint impact of Asian and European Orientalisms on Buddhist studies and Buddhist practice. Harris 2006 develops our understanding of Christian colonial voices in the region.

  • Blackburn, Anne M. Locations of Buddhism: Colonialism and Modernity in Sri Lanka. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

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    Argues for a microhistorical approach to Buddhism in the context of colonialism and explores the doubled use of local and colonial forms of knowledge by Sri Lankan Buddhists as well as the ways regional Buddhist networks responded to the colonial presence.

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  • Edwards, Penny. Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation, 1860–1945. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007.

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    A study of the development of cultural nationalism in French colonial Cambodia that includes a stimulating treatment of colonial-period changes in Buddhist textuality and the treatment of religious sites and monuments.

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  • Hallisey, Charles. “Roads Taken and Not Taken in the Study of Theravāda Buddhism.” In Curators of the Buddha. Edited by Donald S. Lopez Jr., 31–62. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

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    A deservedly influential essay that explores the mutually constitutive engagement of southern Asian Buddhists and Orientalist scholars. Focused on Sri Lanka and Thailand.

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  • Hansen, Anne Ruth. How to Behave: Buddhism and Modernity in Colonial Cambodia, 1860–1930. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007.

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    An innovative and thoughtful study of the conjoined Asian and French influences on Buddhist modernism in Cambodia with a detailed treatment of Siamese-Cambodian Buddhist networks.

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  • Harris, Elizabeth J. Theravāda Buddhism and the British Encounter: Religious, Missionary, and Colonial Experience in Nineteenth-Century Sri Lanka. New York: Routledge, 2006.

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    Composed by a leading scholar of Sri Lankan Christianity, this study contains valuable excerpts from colonial-period Buddhist and Christian documents.

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  • Jory, Patrick. “Thai and Western Buddhist Scholarship in the Age of Colonialism: King Chulalongkorn Redefines the Jatakas.” Journal of Asian Studies 61.3 (2002): 891–918.

    DOI: 10.2307/3096350Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the royal Thai Buddhist innovations in Buddhist textual culture in relation to the colonial presence and national politics. A stimulating addition to studies of Orientalism and its reception in Asia.

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  • Keyes, Charles F. “Millennialism, Theravāda Buddhism, and Thai Society.” Journal of Asian Studies 36.2 (1977): 283–302.

    DOI: 10.2307/2053724Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A deservedly celebrated and influential article on Buddhist millennialism and political crisis with reference to colonial-period events.

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  • Malalgoda, Kitsiri. Buddhism in Sinhalese Society, 1750–1900. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

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    A classic and rightly influential study of Buddhist lay and monastic institutional and social change, partly in the context of British colonial rule.

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  • Obeyesekere, Gananath. “Religious Symbolism and Political Change in Ceylon.” Modern Ceylon Studies 1.1 (1970): 43–63.

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    A widely influential article that introduced the idea of “Protestant Buddhism,” the product of Sri Lankan Buddhist responses to colonial rule and culture.

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Ritual

Studies of Buddhist ritual are at the heart of ethnographic work on Buddhism in Southeast Asia. Political conditions have constrained the development of ritual studies in Burma (Myanmar) and Cambodia, but there exists a wider literature on ritual in Thailand and Sri Lanka. Marston and Guthrie 2004 provides a valuable point of entry for the study of early 21st-century Cambodian Buddhist ritual, while Skidmore 2005 does the same for Burma. Important studies of Sri Lankan Buddhist ritual include Gombrich 1971, Gombrich and Obeyesekere 1988, and Kapferer 1983. In addition to its value for studies of 20th-century Sri Lankan Buddhism, Evers 1972 is fruitfully read in connection with Aung-Thwin 1985 and Gunawardhana 1979 (cited under Buddhist Kingship and Monastic Politics). Klima 2002 and Tambiah 1984 are two fascinating starting points for the investigation of Thai Buddhist ritual and the ideas of power that inform it, while Scott 1994 brings a post-Orientalist perspective to the study of ritual in ways relevant beyond its specific Sri Lankan case.

  • Evers, Hans-Dieter. Monks, Priests, and Peasants: A Study of Buddhism and Social Structure in Central Ceylon. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1972.

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    A fascinating investigation of the intersection of ritual, landholding, and monasticism in 20th-century Sri Lanka. Usefully read in conjunction with Gombrich 1971.

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  • Gombrich, Richard F. Precept and Practice: Traditional Buddhism in the Rural Highlands of Ceylon. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971.

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    A classic study by one of the leading scholars of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and South Asia. Usefully read in conjunction with Evers 1972.

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  • Gombrich, Richard F., and Gananath Obeyesekere. Buddhism Transformed: Religious Change in Sri Lanka. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988.

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    The result of a productive collaboration between the authors, this volume contains useful descriptions of late 20th-century ritual innovations in Sri Lankan Buddhism with attention to the ways class and urbanization have affected such changes.

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  • Kapferer, Bruce. A Celebration of Demons: Exorcism and the Aesthetics of Healing in Sri Lanka. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983.

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    One of the best books by a scholar who has written several studies of Sri Lankan Buddhist ritual, combining structural and psychological perspectives.

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  • Klima, Alan. The Funeral Casino: Meditation, Massacre, and Exchange with the Dead in Thailand. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.

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    A thought-provoking account of Thai militarism in relation to economic development and Buddhist rituals of remembrance. Stronger ethnographically than as a Buddhist-informed theory of memory and representation.

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  • Marston, John, and Elizabeth Guthrie, eds. History, Buddhism, and New Religious Movements in Cambodia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004.

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    Contains thoughtful studies by leading scholars of Cambodian Buddhism and is particularly useful as an introduction to early 21st-century Cambodian Buddhist ritual practice in a variety of settings.

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  • Scott, David. Formations of Ritual: Colonial and Anthropological Discourses on the Sinhala Yaktovil. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.

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    Brings post-Orientalist perspectives to bear on the study of Sri Lankan Buddhist ritual. A useful reminder of the historically contingent nature of “ritual” as an analytical category and the ways political conditions may inform both the practice and the analysis of ritual.

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  • Skidmore, Monique, ed. Burma at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005.

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    A rare and valuable collection of essays that includes studies of early 21st-century Burmese Buddhist ritual and pilgrimage, some of which address ritual in relation to early 21st-century Burmese politics.

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  • Tambiah, Stanley Jeyaraja. The Buddhist Saints of the Forest and the Cult of Amulets: A Study in Charisma, Hagiography, Sectarianism, and Millennial Buddhism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

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    A classic study of charismatic Buddhist monastics that remains instructive for studies of Buddhist ritual and politics in relation to Buddhism.

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Nationalism and Violence

Scholars of Buddhism have begun to address the role of Buddhist practices and institutions in nationalist and revolutionary politics, relationships between Buddhism and political violence, and the role of Buddhist practice in postwar reconstruction.

Thailand

Studies focused on Thailand have become more experimental and less deferential to the monarchy since the suppressed student movement of 1971. In this regard, Thongchai 1994 has been particularly influential. Keyes 1989 develops a productive long-term view of Buddhism and politics through a historical anthropology. Kamala 1997 and Taylor 1993 are usefully read in conversation with Tambiah 1984 to create a picture of how state patronage of Buddhism has altered and been absorbed by regional Buddhist forms.

  • Kamala Tiyavanich. Forest Recollections: Wandering Monks in Twentieth-Century Thailand. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997.

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    An account of changing monastic life in relation to Thai state Buddhism and modernization derived primarily from monastic biographies and autobiographies.

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  • Keyes, Charles F. “Buddhist Politics and Their Revolutionary Origins in Thailand.” International Political Science Review 10.2 (1989): 121–142.

    DOI: 10.1177/019251218901000203Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses 20th-century forms of Buddhist politics and activism in relation to 19th-century changes in Buddhist conceptions of cosmology and society.

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  • Klima, Alan. The Funeral Casino: Meditation, Massacre, and Exchange with the Dead in Thailand. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.

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    Klima 2002 links a study of state violence to an examination of Thailand’s participation in a global liberal economy.

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  • Tambiah, Stanley Jeyaraja The Buddhist Saints of the Forest and the Cult of the Amulets: A Study in Charisma, Hagiography, Sectarianism and Millennial Buddhism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

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    Useful when read with Kamala 1997 and Taylor 1993 to form a picture of how state patronage of Buddhism has altered and been absorbed by regional Buddhist forms

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  • Taylor, J. L. Forest Monks and the Nation-state: An Anthropological and Historical Study in Northeastern Thailand. Singapore: Institute for Southeast Asian Studies, 1993.

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    A thoughtful account of the impact of early 20th-century Buddhist reforms on monasticism and ritual in Lao-speaking northeastern Thailand.

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  • Thongchai Winichakul. Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994.

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    A deservedly celebrated account of the origins of the Thai nation and nationalism written in the aftermath of the suppressed student uprising of 1971. Interesting in part for its reflections on the violence and agency of mapping.

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Cambodia

Studies of Cambodian Buddhism flourished in the late 20th century as relative political stability encouraged the renewal of academic work. The resulting work includes thoughtful investigations of Buddhism in the postwar period. There is considerable interest in the colonial antecedents of the Cambodian genocide, as witnessed by Harris 2005 and Edwards 2007, as well as how Buddhist practice forms part of postgenocidal healing (Bertrand 2004).

  • Bertrand, Didier. “A Medium Possession Practice and Its Relationship with Cambodian Buddhism.” In History, Buddhism, and New Religious Movements in Cambodia. Edited by John Marston and Elizabeth Guthrie, 150–169. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004.

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    A fascinating account of spirit mediums in Cambodia, their relationship to Buddhist monks, and their therapeutic role after the genocine of the Pol Pot regime.

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  • Edwards, Penny. Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation, 1860–1945. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007.

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    A study of the development of cultural nationalism in French colonial Cambodia and its later life in the regime of Pol Pot. Creative in its discussion of monuments and visual culture.

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  • Harris, Ian. Cambodian Buddhism: History and Practice. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005.

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    A valuable summary and point of departure for the study of 20th-century Cambodian Buddhism with deeper historical context.

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Burma (Myanmar)

Scholars of Buddhism recognize the importance of Buddhist symbols and institutions to the politics of the military regime and to the major democracy movement. Houtman 1999 reveals the deep Buddhist register of Burmese political discourse across political lines, while Schober 2006 argues against an essentialist view of pacifist Buddhism. Though dated, Mendelson 1975 contains valuable references to Burmese-language political sources.

  • Houtman, Gustaaf. Mental Culture in Burmese Crisis Politics: Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy. Tokyo: Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, 1999.

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    A thought-provoking and nuanced exploration of Buddhist idioms and practice in relation to early 21st-century Burmese politics.

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  • Mendelson, E. Michael. Sangha and State in Burma: A Study of Monastic Sectarianism and Leadership. Edited by John P. Ferguson. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1975.

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    Although somewhat outdated, this remains a useful source for work on 20th-century Burmese Buddhist politics in part because of references to Burmese sources.

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  • Schober, Juliane. “Buddhism, Violence, and the State in Burma (Myanmar) and Sri Lanka.” In Religion and Conflict in South and Southeast Asia: Disrupting Violence. Edited by Linell E. Cady and Sheldon W. Simon, 51–69. New York: Routledge, 2006.

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    A valuable introduction to key moments of violence in the service of Buddhism in Burma (Myanmar) and Sri Lanka. Argues against an essentialist reading of Buddhism as a religion antithetical to violence.

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Laos

Although the study of Lao Buddhist studies remains a much smaller field than others related to the region, attention to the relationship among Buddhist symbols, institutions, and the state is growing. Stuart-Fox 1996 portrays the transition from Buddhist monarchy to Marxist nation-state, while Evans 1998 examines the development of political ritual life.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s long civil war and the rise of Buddhist nationalism since the 1950s have catalyzed scholarly attention to the relationship among Buddhism, violence, and the state. Bartholomeusz 2002 finds evidence of just war thinking in Pali Buddhist texts, while Kent 2008 argues for the examination of Buddhist practice in the context of military life and violence, questioning the adequacy of the Bartholomeusz 2002 textual analysis. Seneviratne 1999 and Tambiah 1992 plumb the historical conditions of possibility for the intensification of Buddhist nationalist discourse since the 1950s. Abeysekara 2002 draws critical theory into conversation with Buddhist studies.

  • Abeysekara, Ananda. Colors of the Robe: Religion, Identity, and Difference. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2002.

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    Includes some useful microstudies of Buddhist monks and lay Buddhist patronage. The author’s emphasis on the processes through which “Buddhism” is conceived and recognized by diverse actors provides a useful perspective on Buddhist nationalism.

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  • Bartholomeusz, Tessa. In Defense of Dharma: Just-War Ideology in Buddhist Sri Lanka. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002.

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    A controversial exploration of just war thinking in 20th-century Sri Lanka, usefully read in conjunction with Kent 2008.

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  • Kent, Daniel W. Shelter for You, Nirvana for Our Sons: Buddhist Belief and Practice in the Sri Lankan Army. PhD diss., University of Virginia, 2008.

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    An unprecedented and vivid ethnography of southern Asian Buddhism and the military focused on soldiers, their families, and Buddhist preachers during Sri Lanka’s civil war. Available online.

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  • Seneviratne, H. L. The Work of Kings: The New Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

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    An important contribution to studies of late- and postcolonial Buddhism in Sri Lanka, attentive to nationalist politics and economic change, with a 19th- and early 20th-century perspective on the rise of Buddhist nationalism. Contains valuable extended quotations from Sinhala-language materials as well as reflections on activist anthropology.

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  • Tambiah, Stanley Jeyaraja. Buddhism Betrayed? Religion, Politics, and Violence in Sri Lanka. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

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    An influential examination of Buddhist nationalist politics from an anthropologist interested in ethnonationalist politics and collective violence. Examines key moments in the 20th-century nationalist politicization of Buddhist ideas and symbols.

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Gender

The rise of Buddhist interest in reviving female monastic ordination in the region has stimulated attention to women and gender in Buddhist studies. Bartholomeusz 1994 provides a historical perspective on female ordination, while Chatsumarn 1991, Kawanami 2007, and Salgado 2004 present late 20th- and early 21st-century interpretations of female monasticism and asceticism from Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), and Sri Lanka. Concurrently, developments in gender studies and queer studies have encouraged new treatments of gender and sexuality in Buddhist Southeast Asia, such as Cabezón 1992 and Loos 2006.

LAST MODIFIED: 09/13/2010

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195393521-0152

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