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Modern Buddhist Conjunctures in Myanmar

Modern Buddhist Conjunctures in Myanmar
Cultural Narratives, Colonial Legacies, and Civil Society
Juliane Schober
Publication Year: 2011

For centuries, Burmese have looked to the authority of their religious tradition, Theravada Buddhism, to negotiate social and political hierarchies. Modern Buddhist Conjunctures in Myanmar examines those moments in the modern history of this Southeast Asian country when religion, culture, and politics converge to chart new directions. Arguing against Max Weber’s characterization of Buddhism as other-worldly and divorced from politics, this study shows that Buddhist practice necessitates public validation within an economy of merit in which moral action earns future rewards. The intervention of colonial modernity in traditional Burmese Buddhist worldviews has created conjunctures at which public concerns critical to the nation’s future are reinterpreted in light of a Buddhist paradigm of power. Author Juliane Schober begins by focusing on the public role of Buddhist practice and the ways in which precolonial Buddhist hegemonies were negotiated. Her discussion then traces the emergence of modern Buddhist communities through the colonial experience: the disruption of traditional paradigms of hegemony and governance, the introduction of new and secular venues to power, modern concerns like nationalism, education, the public place of religion, the power of the state, and Buddhist resistance to the center. The continuing discourse and cultural negotiation of these themes draw Buddhist communities into political arenas, either to legitimate political power or to resist it on moral grounds. The book concludes with an examination of the way in which Buddhist resistance in 2007, known in the West as the Saffron Revolution, was subjugated by military secularism and the transnational pressures of a global economy. A skillfully crafted work of scholarship, Modern Buddhist Conjunctures in Myanmar will be welcomed by students of Theravada Buddhism and Burma/Myanmar, readers of anthropology, history of religions, politics, and colonial studies of modern Southeast Asia, and scholars of religious and political practice in modern national contexts.

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pp. ix-xi
This book examines modern conjunctures of Buddhism and politics in Myanmar from a vantage point at the intersection of anthropology and Buddhist studies. I hope this study contributes to our understanding of the discourse about religion in colonial and postcolonial contexts. My inquiry into modern Burmese Buddhist practices and communities...
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pp. 1-14
Myanmar, formerly Burma, has been embroiled in conflicts at the nation’s center and at its borders almost since its independence from British colonial rule in 1948.1 As recently as September 2007, the so-called Saffron Revolution, a populist uprising led by monks, contested the legitimacy of the state. The...
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1. Theravada Cultural Hegemony in Precolonial Burma

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pp. 15-33
This chapter delineates Theravada Buddhist paradigms that shaped precolonial polities in the region that became modern Burma. These empires modeled themselves after classical states of Southeast Asia in which royal patronage of Buddhist institutions helped consolidate the regional power of the court. ...
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2 The Emergence of the Secular in Modern Burma

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pp. 34-45
European colonialism profoundly shaped Buddhist modernity in Asia.1 One of the hallmarks of this conquest is the fragmentation of authority that results from the simultaneous affirmation of distinct, even contradictory bodies of knowledge like, for example, science and religion. The experience of modernity...
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3. Educating the Other: Buddhism and Colonial Knowledge

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pp. 46-61
In the nineteenth century the Government of India imposed modern educational reforms on its colony in order to prepare local populations for careers as civil servants in the administration of the colony.1 The aim of colonial education was to impart objective knowledge and rational methods of inquiry in...
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4. Civil Buddhism in a Colonial Context

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pp. 62-75
The previous chapters discussed some of the ways in which British rule in Burma introduced secular structures that expanded the power of the modern state and undermined traditional Buddhist authority.1 Colonial rule dislodged worldviews characteristic of traditional cosmological Buddhist polities and...
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5. The Politics of the Modern State as Buddhist Practice

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pp. 76-98
In Burmese history, traditional and modern states have relied on support from the monastic community to ensure their political continuity, and complex interdependencies developed as a result of the state’s reliance on Buddhist legitimation. Secular institutions that confer power upon government, including...
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6. Buddhist Resistance against the State

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pp. 99-118
In The Nation and Its Fragments, Partha Chatterjee observes that the discourse of nationalism encompasses material and spiritual concerns that map onto a dichotomy of outer and inner spaces, respectively.1 Similar conceptions have been expressed in Burmese resistance movements. Nationalists as well as later
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7. The Limits of Buddhist Moral Authority in the Secular State

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pp. 119-145
In September 2007 the world watched as tens of thousands of Buddhist monks marched in daily defiance of Myanmar’s military rule.1 The “Saffron Revolution,” as it came to be called in exile media, was the most recent iteration in a genealogy of Buddhist resistance against the secular state. Despite its designation as
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8. Potential Futures

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pp. 146-154
In Southeast Asia, Buddhist encounters with modernity unfolded in the context of wider engagements of traditional polities with the economic networks of the colonizing west. Partly in response to the encroaching west, modernizing reforms were initiated in 1851 by the Thai King Mongkut (r. 1851–1868) and...


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pp. 155-157


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pp. 159-188


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pp. 189-190


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pp. 191-201


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pp. 203-207
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