Presentations connected to Sri Lanka at the Annual Meetings of the American Academy of Religion

Below you will find a list of presentations connected to Sri Lanka that are to be given next week at the Annual Meetings of the American Academy of Religion in Chicago.  More information about the meetings can be found here:


University of Illinois, Chicago Institute for the Humanities and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Theme: The Holy War Conference: Modern Instantiations
Rachel Havrelock, University of Illinois, Chicago, Presiding
Friday – 10:00 AM-2:00 PM
Offsite – University of Illinois, Chicago Institute for the Humanities, 701 South Morgan St

This conference is free and open to the public. For more information, or to register: huminst@uic.edu312-996-6354

Mahinda Deegalle, Bath Spa University
A Just War in Sri Lanka?


Dharma Academy of North America (DANAM)

Theme: Transmission, Innovation, and Identity Formation in Buddhist Communities
Karma Lekshe Tsomo, University of San Diego, Presiding
Friday – 2:00 PM-4:00 PM
McCormick Place South-501A

Natalie Quli, Institute of Buddhist Studies
The Relationship between Temple Ownership Patterns and Ethnic Identity in Four Sri Lankan American Buddhist Temples


North American Religions Section; Asian North American Religion, Culture, and Society Group; Hinduism Group; North American Hinduism Group; Religion and Migration Group; and Space, Place, and Religious Meaning Group

Theme: E Pluribus Pluribus: Transnational Hinduism in North America
Corinne Dempsey, Nazareth College, Presiding
Saturday – 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
McCormick Place North-426B

This collection of papers explores the diverse landscape of North American Hinduism as conceived, experienced, and practiced by immigrants. Members of each community studied re-conceptualize identities and practices both locally and within larger, transnational contexts. The first paper addresses the transformation of a local Tamil goddess into a universal goddess through the activities of a Michigan temple. The second paper examines transnational protest campaigns against offensive uses of Hindu imagery. The next paper explores the re-construction of “Indianness” in an Indo-Caribbean immigrant-run temple in Florida. From a macro-level perspective, the fourth paper enumerates the reasons why “trans-national” is the most appropriate term to apply to Hindu communities in Canada. The final paper analyzes a poem to demonstrate the Toronto-based author’s expression of Hindu identity that is simultaneously universal and Garhwali. Hindu diversity is maintained yet re-configured as Hindus cross national borders and establish themselves in North America.

Paul Younger, McMaster University
Trans-national Hinduism in Canada

There are approximately 500,000 Hindus in Canada worshipping in a couple hundred different temples. Because this community developed quietly with little controversy there has not been an effort to date to define the nature of the community. This paper is a preliminary attempt to initiate that process. The community is not usually thought of as a “diaspora” because it did not come from a single homeland and did not come unwillingly. Immigrants from Guyana, East Africa and Sri Lanka play a prominent role, and the community developed a large number of separate temple communities by following the local tax regulations for religious organizations. Because of the strong local temple organizations “global” forms of Hinduism have played a minor role. It is argued here that the term “trans-national” best describes the self-conscious modifications of tradition characteristic of the Canadian temple scene.



Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies

Theme: The Ethics of Wealth in a World of Economic Inequality: Buddhist and Christian Perspectives
Alice A. Keefe, University of Wisconsin, Presiding
Saturday – 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
McCormick Place West-182

Joerg Rieger, Southern Methodist University
Alan Jay Richard, Realistic Living
Carol S. Anderson, Kalamazoo College



Buddhism Section

Theme: Blurred Borders: Pan-Asianism, Transnationalism, and Buddhist Identities
Scott Mitchell, Institute of Buddhist Studies, Presiding
Sunday – 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
McCormick Place West-187B

How does contemporary Buddhism challenge or complicate identity formation in the modern nation state? To answer this question, the papers in this panel explore the pan-Asian and transnational identities of the groups/individuals standing at the intersection between two or more traditionally Buddhist cultures. Looking at Buddhist figures and groups in Sri Lanka, Sikkim, Korea, China, and Japan, the comparative lens used to examine this topic reveal a pan-Asian transnational Buddhism that both challenge established identities and construct new ones. These new identities challenge colonialism, unite groups of people, and legitimate minority communities and new religious groups. Though not always successful, the vision produced by these new identities undoubtedly complicates our notion of a Buddhism restricted to the borders of the modern nation-state.

Kalzang Dorjee Bhutia, University of Delhi
The First Vajrayana-turned-Theravada Monk: Rediscovering Anti-colonial and Pan- Asian Modernities in the Life of S. Mahinda Thera

This paper will explore a forgotten moment of pan-Asian anti-colonialism where Buddhism played a key role in creating links between vastly different cultural and geographical territories through focusing on the life of Jathika S. Mahinda Thera (b. 1898?-d.1951). S. Mahinda Thera was a famous Buddhist monk, intellectual and poet who made important contributions to the Ceylonese freedom movement in the 1930s and -40s. Originally hailing from the Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim, Mahinda Thera arrived in Sri Lanka in the early 1910s. His subsequent education in Theravadin traditions of the island make him the first recorded example of a Vajrayana-turned-Theravadin Buddhist monk in history. More importantly, his life story bound together two distinct South Asian experiences of colonialism, and provides new insight on the way that Buddhism cultivated anti-colonial sentiment in different areas of Asia through contributing to pan-Asian identity while also leading to two very divergent postcolonial trajectories.

Jeffrey Samuels, Western Kentucky University
Pan-Buddhist, Pan-Asian: Religious and Social Conflict in the Making of a Theravada Identity in Malaysia

Given the multi-ethnic, pan-Buddhist, and pan-Asian nature of most Theravada temples in Malaysia, this paper uncovers the dynamic processes through which religious institutions and leaders navigate conflicts that surround competing ideas about religious practice, and how a world religion such as Buddhism provides minority communities with a flexible sense of citizenship to coexist with and/or challenge the dominant nation state. In particular, this paper promises to increase our understanding of how Buddhism, when envisioned as a pan-Asian identity, may function as strategies of legitimation for minority religious communities, particularly when ideas about religion, culture, and the nation remain in flux.



International Development and Religion Group

Theme: Varieties of Response: Intersections of International Development and Religion in Global Contexts
Nathan Loewen, Vanier College, Presiding
Monday – 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
McCormick Place North-126

This session explores diverse interactions between international development and religion in a variety of global contexts. Through a consideration of a literacy program in Egypt, faith-based responses to rape and torture in the Congo, alliances between World Vision International and the government in Sri Lanka, and religious and development constructions of land among Palestinians and Christians, the session focuses on the difference context can make for the ways in which religion and development interact, as well as the challenges this presents for academic analysis.

Oshan Fernando, Chicago, IL
World Vision International and the Politics of Development in Sri Lanka

The global proliferation of new Christian movements has generated renewed anxiety in some contexts about their (in)compatibility with local cultural formations. In Sri Lanka, such concerns found expression in efforts by emerging political formations to introduce laws to control religious conversions. Despite prevalent concerns about Christian movements, several global faith-based organizations (FBOs) work alongside government apparatuses to provide a range of local-level development programs. Drawing on ethnographic research in southern Sri Lanka, this paper considers the activities of one such global FBO—World Vision International. Active in Sri Lanka since 1977, WVI’s relative success has emerged from its ability to present its projects through a “secular” developmentalist veneer. Moreover, it was understood by government officials as operating `below’ the state when apprehended from within the familiar logic of the state’s spatiality. Yet, an analysis of its local interventions illuminate the far-reaching implications it has on local and national configurations of power.


Buddhism Section

Theme: Buddhist Canons in Context: Compilation, Devotion, and Transformation
Jiang Wu, University of Arizona, Presiding
Tuesday – 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
McCormick Place West-176A

This proposed paper session seeks to break new ground in Buddhist studies by analyzing the structure and significance of the canon in various contexts. We will consider the canon as a practical creation for a particular religious community through presentations on four unique cases in Theravada, Tibetan, Japanese, and Chinese traditions. Topics include medieval Theravada anthologies as “fossilized canons,” the interplay between patronage and authority in Tibetan canonic traditions, the instability of eighth century Japanese editions, sectarian transformation of sacred texts in the Japanese Shingon and True Pure Land schools, and public self-immolation dedicated to the creation of the Zhaocheng canon carved in twelfth century China. Although each paper focuses on a specific cultural region and time period, all treat Buddhist canons as living entities that respond to the religious, political, and social needs of the individuals involved in their creation.

Jonathan Young, College of the Holy Cross
Fossilized Canons: Reevaluating Medieval Pāli Anthology Texts

The Pāli canon has rarely been available in its entirety among the Buddhist communities of South and Southeast Asia. Even when available, Buddhists have generally opted to employ a limited number of canonical texts, passages, and their commentaries as part of a shared repertoire that scholars have referred to as a practical canon. While we may observe such practical canons in use among contemporary Buddhist communities, it is far more challenging to assess what such practical canons may have looked like for Buddhists of the medieval period. This paper examines Pāli anthologies, particularly the Sārasaṅgaha and theUpāsakajanālaṅkāra, as fossilized canons that help us to reconstruct the ways in which medieval Buddhists understood and utilized the canonical and non-canonical texts that would have formed the practical canons of their day.

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