Buddhism and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka

By Patrick Grant

Subjects: Asian Studies, Asian Religion And Philosophy, Buddhism, History, India And South Asian Studies
Series: SUNY series in Religious Studies
Paperback : 9780791493540, 160 pages, January 2010
Hardcover : 9780791493533, 160 pages, January 2009

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Table of contents

1. Vedic Tradition and the Buddha: How to Say the Unsayable
2. Buddhism: The Art of the Detached Agonist
3. Sri Lanka: Buddhist Self-Representation and the Genesis of the Modern Conflict
4. Anagarika Dharmapala: Buddhism, Science, and the Crisis of Historical Imagination
5. Walpola Rahula and Gamini Salgado: Buddhism, Dialogue, and the Political Imaginary
6. J. R. Jayewardene: Playing with Fire
7. Conclusion
Suggestions for Further Reading

Looks at how a spiritual tradition can be appropriated by those involved in ethno-nationalist conflict.


Patrick Grant explores the relationship between Buddhism and violent ethnic conflict in modern Sri Lanka using the concept of "regressive inversion. " Regressive inversion occurs when universal teaching, such as that of the Buddha, is redeployed to supercharge passions associated with the kinds of group loyalty that the universal teaching itself intends to transcend. The book begins with an account of the main teachings of Theravada Buddhism and looks at how these inform, or fail to inform, modern interpreters. Grant considers the writings of three key figures—Anagarika Dharmapala, Walpola Rahula, and J. R. Jayewardene—who addressed Buddhism and politics in the years leading up to Sri Lanka's political independence from Britain, and subsequently, in postcolonial Sri Lanka. This book makes the Sri Lankan conflict accessible to readers interested in the modern global phenomenon of ethnic violence involving religion and also illuminates similar conflicts around the world.

Patrick Grant is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. He is the author of several books, including Literature, Rhetoric, and Violence in Northern Ireland, 1968–1998: Hardened to Death and Personalism and the Politics of Culture.


"…a solid introduction to Buddhism and its relationship with the conflict in Sri Lanka during the twentieth century. This work will be especially beneficial to scholars looking at the intersection of religion and politics in times of crisis. It also will be a useful text in courses in religion, history, sociology, and conflict. Buddhism and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka provides a useful lens that could be used to examine similar conflicts around the globe. " — H-Net Reviews (H-Genocide)

"Understanding the reasons for the conflict … remains a critical need, in order to insure that Sri Lanka's military victory does not serve merely as a prelude to more insurgency … Grant seeks to contribute to this understanding by explaining the formation of ethnic division along religious lines. " — International Journal of Asian Studies

"…Grant introduces a mode of analysis that illuminates the ways in which particular Buddhist perspectives have fueled this civil war … Grant insightfully, compellingly, and provocatively focuses on the role of language, rhetoric, and imagination in the formation of ideologies that have worsened this conflict. " — Journal of Asian Studies