Self, religion identity and politics : Buddhist and Muslim encounters in contemporary Sri Lanka

 

Self, Religion, Identity

This study looks at the post-war phenomenon of rising religious conflict in Sri Lanka, specifically between the Buddhist (Sinhala) and Muslim communities. It attempts to place these rising tensions within the context of historical ethno-religious conflict and confrontation in the country while also raising some fundamental issues about how we understand and deploy the category, religion. It also looks critically at the logic and indeed the possibility of isolating religion from the wider social, cultural and political context within which the term gains sense. The study reports on findings from the Galle and Colombo districts where fieldwork in the form of narrative inquiry was carried out to identify a range of responses from within the Buddhist and Muslim communities about how these communities perceive themselves and relations with each other. Some of the narratives that emerged were: a sense of beleagurement within the Buddhist (Sinhala) community despite the war victory in 2009; a sense of threat posed by perceived Muslim expansionism and global islamaphobic discourses; religious agents in both communities feeling irrelevant in a rapidly changing social context and a tendency for both communities to view each other as homogenous blocs, and the inability to see significant intra-community differences.

 

Dhammika Herathis a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Peradeniya and Harshana Rambukwella is a Senior Lecturer at the Postgraduate Institute of English, Open University of Sri Lanka.

 

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