“Nation, Constitutionalism and Buddhism in Sri Lanka” by Roshan de Silva Wijeyeratne

Focusing on Sri Lanka, this book offers a new perspective on contemporary debates about nationalism in South Asia. It looks at the ‘capture’ of Buddhism by a highly fetishsised form of Sinhalese nationalism in the colonial and postcolonial periods, and the framing of subsequent key constitutional and nation-building moments.

When the author speaks of ‘Sinhalese Buddhism’ in the period prior to its engagement with the British colonial State he has in mind a relatively unbounded (although at times boundary forming) set of practices that facilitated both the inclusion and exclusion of non-‘Buddhist’ concepts and people within a particular cosmological frame. It is the cosmic order of premodern Sinhalese Buddhism that is particularly potent in its capacity to inform the late colonial and postcolonial socio-political order. Juxtaposing the premodern against the backdrop of colonial modernity, when de Silva Wijeyeratne speaks of modern Sinhalese Buddhism/nationalism he has in mind a much more reified and bounded concept imagined through a modern epistemology whose purpose was not so much inclusion, but a much more radical exclusion of non-‘Buddhist’ ideas and people. Modern Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism, then, emerges through the conjunction of discourse, power and knowledge at a distinct moment in the trajectory of the colonial State. An intrinsic feature of this modernist moment is that premodern categories were subject to a re-valuation that generated interesting consequences for State-society relations and the wider constitutional/legal imaginary. The author goes onto explore the dynamics of constitutionalism within the orbit of anthropological and historical scholarship on the cosmology of Sinhalese Buddhism and its relation to Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism.

Presenting a timely analysis given the intensification of Sri Lanka’s civil war since the election in 2005 of President Mahinda Rajapakse on an overtly ultra nationalist Sinhalese Buddhist platform, this book is of interest to scholars of South Asian studies, anthropology, sociology, ethnicity and political science.



Introduction: Sri Lankan Nationalism and the Presence of the Past: Towards a Hermeneutic Perspective

1. The Mahāvamsa as History and The Pre-History of State Formation

2. The Cosmology of Buddhism, the Pāli Chronicles and the Ontology of Evil

3. Textual Practices, Sinhalese Buddhist Consciousness and Dissonance

4. Galactic Polities, Cosmography and the Imaginary of Buddhist Sovereignty

5. The Transformation of Sinhalese Buddhist Consciousness in Its Colonial and Postcolonial Relation

6. Independence, Land, Citizenship and the Cosmic Order

7. Sinhalese Revolutionaries, Linguistic Nationalism and and Buddhism Reimagined

8. Cosmology, Constitutionalism and the Tamil as Other

9. Centralization, Decentralization and the Cosmology of Buddhism

10. Conclusion: Rethinking Community in Sri Lanka


Roshan de Silva Wijeyeratne is Lecturer in Law at Griffith Law School, Griffith University, Australia.

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