A Talk on Militant Buddhism, Nationalism, Ethnic Identity, and Politics in Sri Lanka
“The Politics and the Anti-politics of the Bodu Bala Sena in Sri Lanka”
A Talk by Tudor Silva
Senior Professor of Sociology
University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka
4:30 Thursday October 30 2014
Bond Memorial Hall
Professor Silva’s talk will focus on a group of Colombo-based militant Buddhist monks the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), evolved in the aftermath of the military victory of the Government of Sri Lanka over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009. In the backdrop of the resulting Sinhala Buddhist nationalist triumph and the tendency of the ruling elite to by and large ignore minority concerns and demands, the BBS articulates a populist Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarian position vis-à-vis ethnic and religious minorities in the country, including certain Muslim and Christian groups who the BBS claims are all out to destabilize the “Sinhala-Buddhist nation.” The demographic clustering of ethnic minorities in urban Sri Lanka and their apparent economic domination and visible presence in trade and commerce as well as in the religious and cultural landscape have enabled BBS to target them in their various propaganda campaigns. The movement presents itself as free of and opposed to party politics in is effort to represent Sinhala-Buddhist interests but seeks to expose whatever it identifies as harmful to the cultural integrity and wellbeing the majority community. Employing a range of propaganda techniques including public rallies, mass media, face book and rumor, BBS has managed to influence a section of the Sinhala public, including youth, business lobbies and public sector employees, shaping their opinions, perceptions and sentiments. The mistrust so generated has been instrumental in some recent outbreaks of ethnic riots in small towns in the Western coastal belt in Sri Lanka. While the BBS shares a lot with earlier Sinhala Buddhist campaigns, the direct involvement of militant Buddhist monks as cultural border guards publicly inclined to take the law into their own hands represents a new development in post-war Sri Lanka. The presentation will explore the implications of BBS for social harmony, multicultural heritage, ethnic reconciliation and political developments in the country.
Kalinga Tudor Silva is a Senior Professor of Sociology at University of Peradeniya. He has regularly served as a member of the Intercollegiate Sri Lanka Education (ISLE) Program teaching faculty in Sri Lanka for over twenty-five years. Professor Silva has published more than a dozen books and over fifty articles and book chapters. His research interests include ethnicity, caste, economic development, and social aspects of health. His latest book Decolonization, Development and Disease: A Social History of Malaria in Sri Lanka was published by Orient Blackswan in March 2014.
Drop-add has begun, and spots are available in Professor Lee Smithey’s course, Transforming Intractable Conflict (SOCI 025B). This course is registered in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology but can also be counted toward a minor in Peace and Conflict Studies.
How can long-term deadly conflicts between groups with opposing ethnic identities change in ways that diminish violence and open up opportunities for more constructive forms of conflict in democratic and civil society? This course operates from an assumption that one must often dig deeply into the psychological and cultural dynamics that underpin division in ethno-political conflicts. Northern Ireland will serve as the primary case study for this kind of deep exploration.
The course will include a unique opportunity in Fall 2013 as funding has been secured from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to bring a mural artist, David “Dee” Craig, from Belfast for a month-long residency beginning after Fall Break in October. Our class will have the opportunity to explore with the artist the role of mural making in conflict, division, peacebuilding, and community relations in Northern Ireland. We hope we will also be able to participate in the painting of a mural on campus! For photos of some of the artist’s work, visit http://bit.ly/14iiDUH
The course description for SOAN 025B reads:
This course will address the sociology of peace processes and intractable identity conflicts in deeply divided societies. Northern Ireland will serve as the primary case study, and the course outline will include the history of the conflict, the peace process, and grassroots conflict transformation initiatives. Special attention will be given to the cultural underpinnings of division, such as sectarianism and collective identity, and their expression through symbols, language, and collective actions, such as parades and commemorations.
Eligible for PEAC credit.
This course can serve as a pre-requisite for students wishing to study in Northern Ireland as part of the college’s Northern Ireland Semester program. See http://northernireland.swarthmore.edu
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the instructor, Lee Smithey at email@example.com
Professor Smithey has contributed a chapter on “Identity Formation in Nonviolent Struggle” to a new book edited by Maciej Bartkowski, Recovering Nonviolent History: Civil Resistance in Liberation Struggles. (Lynne Rienner Publishers)
Smithey’s chapter serves as a theoretical primer on the social movement literature on collective identities and the under-explored connections with strategic action. Other chapters cover a range of global, and often forgotten, cases of nonviolent liberation struggles where national identities have played important roles.
As other chapters in this volume illustrate, nonviolent resistance has often played an important role in nationalist movements for independence. These cases offer important opportunities to study the power potentials of strategic nonviolent action, and the prominence of nationalism in them compels us to ask how identity and tactical choice influence one another. This chapter draws on the sociological study of social movements to theorize ways of thinking about relationships between the nonviolent tactics that many nationalist movements have employed in conflict and their collective national identities. The relationships are probably much closer and more important than either sociologists or scholars of nonviolent resistance have realized. Identities can be publicly displayed for strategic ends. Tactical repertoires, including nonviolent ones, reflect collective identities or resisters’ cultural predispositions. Conversely, choosing certain tactics can influence the construction of collective identities as people adapt their national identity to incorporate new tactical rationales and justifications.
Here is the book description:
This unique book brings to light the little-known, but powerful roles that civil resistance has played in national liberation struggles throughout history. Ranging from the American Revolution to Kosovo in the 1990s, from Egypt under colonial rule to present-day West Papua and Palestine, the authors of Recovering Nonviolent History consider several key questions: What kinds of civilian-based nonviolent strategy and tactics have been used in liberation struggles? What accounts for their successes and failures? Not least, how did nonviolent resistance influence national identities and socioeconomic and political institutions both prior to and after liberation, and why has this history been so often ignored? The story that emerges is a compelling one of the agency of thousands and even millions of ordinary people as they used nonviolent force in the course of struggles against foreign subjugation.
For those interested in exploring the intersection of nationalism and nonviolence further, you might be interested in exploring Manfred Steger’s book, Gandhi’s Dilemma: Nonviolent Principles and Nationalist Power in which Steger examines the tension between Gandhi’s deployment of Indian nationalism and his universal philosophy of nonviolence.