Books! Books! Books!

Check out the recent books written by our faculty–and stay tuned for individual posts from these scholars!


Educating Monks: Minority Buddhism on China’s Southwest Border by Prof. Thomas Borchert (University of Hawaii Press, May 2017)

“Most studies of Buddhist communities tend to be limited to villages, individual temple communities, or a single national community. Buddhist monastics, however, cross a number of these different framings: They are part of local communities, are governed through national legal frameworks, and participate in both national and transnational Buddhist networks. Educating Monks makes visible the ways Buddhist communities are shaped by all of the above—collectively and often simultaneously.

Educating Monks examines a minority Buddhist community in Sipsongpannā, a region located on China’s southwest border with Myanmar and Laos. Its people, the Dai-lue, are “double minorities”: They are recognized by the Chinese state as part of a minority group, and they practice Theravāda Buddhism, a minority form within China, where Mahayana Buddhism is the norm. Theravāda has long been the primary training ground for Dai-lue men, and since the return of Buddhism to the area in the years following Mao Zedong’s death, the Dai-lue have put many of their resources into providing monastic education for their sons. However, the author’s analysis of institutional organization within Sipsongpannā, the governance of religion there, and the movements of monks (revealing the “ethnoscapes” that the monks of Sipsongpannā participate in) points to educational contexts that depend not just on local villagers, but also resources from the local (Communist) government and aid form Chinese Mahayana monks and Theravāda monks from Thailand and Myanmar. While the Dai-lue monks draw on these various resources for the development of the sangha, they do not share the same agenda and must continually engage in a careful political dance between villagers who want to revive traditional forms of Buddhism, a Chinese state that is at best indifferent to the continuation of Buddhism, and transnational monks that want to import their own modern forms of Buddhism into the region.”


Indian Muslim Minorities and the 1857 Rebellion: Religion, Rebels, and Jihad by Prof. Ilyse Morgenstein Fuerst (I.B. Tauris, 2017) 

“While jihad has been the subject of countless studies in the wake of recent terrorist attacks, scholarship on the topic has so far paid little attention to South Asian Islam and, more specifically, its place in South Asian history. Seeking to fill some gaps in the historiography, Ilyse R. Morgenstein Fuerst examines the effects of the 1857 Rebellion (long taught in Britain as the ‘Indian Mutiny’) on debates about the issue of jihad during the British Raj. Morgenstein Fuerst shows that the Rebellion had lasting, pronounced effects on the understanding by their Indian subjects (whether Muslim, Hindu or Sikh) of imperial rule by distant outsiders. For India’s Muslims their interpretation of the Rebellion as jihad shaped subsequent discourses, definitions and codifications of Islam in the region. Morgenstein Fuerst concludes by demonstrating how these perceptions of jihad, contextualised within the framework of the 19th century Rebellion, continue to influence contemporary rhetoric about Islam and Muslims in the Indian subcontinent.Drawing on extensive primary source analysis, this unique take on Islamic identities in South Asia will be invaluable to scholars working on British colonial history, India and the Raj, as well as to those studying Islam in the region and beyond.”


Singing Yoruba Christianity Music, Media, and Morality by Prof. Vicki Brennan (Indiana University Press, 2018)

“Singing the same song is a central part of the worship practice for members of the Cherubim and Seraphim Christian Church in Lagos, Nigeria. Vicki L. Brennan reveals that by singing together, church members create one spiritual mind and become unified around a shared set of values. She follows parishioners as they attend choir rehearsals, use musical media—hymn books and cassette tapes—and perform the music and rituals that connect them through religious experience. Brennan asserts that church members believe that singing together makes them part of a larger imagined social collective, one that allows them to achieve health, joy, happiness, wealth, and success in an ethical way. Brennan discovers how this particular Yoruba church articulates and embodies the moral attitudes necessary to be a good Christian in Nigeria today.”


Theravada Buddhism in Colonial Contexts edited by Prof. Thomas Borchert (Routledge, 2018)

“Over the course of the nineteenth century, most of the Theravada world of Southeast Asia came under the colonial domination of European powers. While this has long been seen as a central event in the development of modern forms of Theravada Buddhism, most discussions have focused on specific Buddhist communities or nations, and particularly their resistance to colonialism.

The chapters in this book examine the many different colonial contexts and regimes that Theravada Buddhists experienced, not just those of European powers such as the British, French, but also the internal colonialism of China and Thailand. They show that while many Buddhists resisted colonialism, other Buddhists shared agendas with colonial powers, such as for the reform of the monastic community. They also show that in some places, such as Singapore and Malaysia, colonialism enabled the creation of Theravada Buddhist communities. The book demonstrates the importance of thinking about colonialism both locally and regionally.”

Senior Spotlight: Rebecca Friedlander ’17

Rebecca Friedlander in the Senior Spotlight:
a series on our graduating seniors


Why did you major in Religion?

Rebecca Friedlander, ’17

I majored in religion because I took a world religions class in high school and realized how much I didn’t know. I really wanted to learn about new places and new people and I was already planning on majoring in anthropology so religion seemed like a good second major to really give me a broad world view.

Where do you imagine yourself in 10 years?

In ten years I’ve hopefully completed a masters and maybe even further schooling but I’m keeping my options open right now. Currently I’m thinking about graduate school in archaeology but I’m taking a year off to work and really get a plan together.

Imagine a first-year student has asked your advice about REL courses. What’s the one she shouldn’t dream about missing? Why?

I would definitely say take at least one class with every professor if you can and don’t miss out on office hours. That’s one thing I wish I had done more of when I was in college because the few times I went it was super helpful and it’s amazing how much you can learn outside of the classroom when you’re just having a conversation and how much you can improve your own work and your life.

If you could write any book, what would it be?

I’m reading a lot of dystopia right now so if I could write a book it’d probably be something along those lines. I really like novels that look at how simultaneously expansive and small the world really is in terms of how much everything is connected and impacts everything else but also how much the world contains. So I guess it would have characters vastly different from one another but that have intertwining storylines.

 

The Religion of Prince

The Religion of Prince by Todne Thomas
4/22/16
 
“Dearly Beloved,
We are gathered here today
to get through this thing
called life.” – “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince
 
On April 21, 2016, music icon Prince Rogers Nelson died at the age of 57. A creative genius, disciplined musician, charismatic performer, and prolific songwriter who fused rock, R&B, soul, and funk, Prince engineered a career that spanned four decades. Prince is widely lauded for his considerable musical talent. Prince is also notorious for his public performance of an overtly sensual sexuality that defined gender conventions. Prince’s concerts and music were vital contemplative spaces that illustrated the socially constructed character of gender and sexuality as well as the myriad embodied and performative hybridities that gender and sexuality can entail. For Prince to debut an overtly gender-transgressing sexuality in the 1980s as an African American man was incredibly significant. The 1970s and 1980s witnessed the emergence of Neoconservatism and the Christian Right that attributed black poverty in the United States to black cultural deficiencies and a pathologized rather than institutional racism. Family values, and more specifically a corrective heteropatriarchy, were proposed as a way to end what was a perceived to be an onslaught of black welfare queens, absentee dads, and broken families. Prince’s performance of an embodied black sexuality that did not conform to a hypermasculinized black masculinity or a respectable black patriarchy was a defiant rejection of the intersectional hegemonies that sought to discipline black sexuality. Even amidst the controversial perspectives voiced by Prince after he became a Jehovah’s Witness in 2011 that have been associated with anti-gay and anti-bisexual rhetoric (which in their own right merit analysis), the transgressive legacy of Prince’s career remains. His music and performance contained not only a confident pulse and an arrogant swagger but also a soulful rebuke of the constriction of sexuality—a counter-church if you will with “Purple Rain” as a hymn that airs the ambivalences, contradictions, and challenges that shape the affective and material contexts of black intimacies.
 
In addition to the ways in which Prince’s music located itself against the grain of conservative religio-political formation that constituted and demoralized blackness as nonheteronormative, is the aesthetics of Prince’s music and its religious and spiritual implications. In Remnants: A Memoir of Spirit, Activism, and Mothering by Rosemarie Freeney Harding, Harding writes of the broad registers of an indigenous black folk religion.
 
The meaning of religion for Black folks, they insist, is in the heart of our history, our trauma and our hope. It is what makes us indigenous to this place, to modernity. As [Charles] Long puts it, Black religion is the way have oriented ourselves—over the centuries in these Americas and extending back before our arrival on these shores—to “mash out a meaning” of life in the midst of tremendous suffering and pain. Religion, in this sense, is not simply a doctrine of faith or the methods and practices of church; rather, it is all the ways we remind ourselves of who we really are, in spite of who the temporal powers may say we are….Black religion then, is not only in the music, the drama, the communion, and the interpretation of text within the walls of the physical church; it is also in the orientation of Black people to so-called secular culture. Black religion is Otis Redding and D’Angelo as much as Mahalia Jackson and Mary Mary; it is hip-hop as holy dance; and root work as much as the laying on of hands. [Harding 2015, 118].
 
Black religion then constitutes an interpretive grid by which black people make sense of their place in the world, construct meaningful, hopeful, and even sensuous identities for themselves against hegemonic colonial narratives that confine blackness to abjection or the underside of morality and power. Whether in the moan of a woman rocked by the Holy Spirit or the ecstasy of a sexual moan sung by Prince followed by a pronouncement in “D.M.S.R.,” “Girl it ain’t no sin to strip down to your underwear,” both embodied performances aid a “beloved” in “get[ting] through this thing called life.” The throaty screams of Prince’s singing catapulted in tenor tones somewhere into a universe of the future is call for a radical immanence. In a time in which #BlackLivesMatter activists invoke black matter, bodies, and immediacy, in a way that I argue unseats a hegemonic Christian emphasis of ascetic suppression of the body and emphasis of a future messianic salvation, Prince is a priest of a black religion of here and now, of a this-lifeness that beckons us to contemplate how we love, inhabit, and move our flesh.

Monks, Nuns and Sons

a monk and his nephew

            a monk and his nephew

In Bangkok, there are lots of monks with sons.

This statement would seem to be provocative, something meant to begin a discussion about how troubled the Sangha is (in a period when the Kingdom is itself troubled), and how it desperately needs reform. The kind of statement that begins a discussion about monks flying in private jets, or corruption over monetary issues.

Instead, it’s an innocent observation about a situation that I had never thought of. Monks can have sons. And this leads to a wider, completely obvious, observation: monks, nuns and novices, they all have families.

In 2014, I was interviewing Thai monks about their views on their own status as citizens. This was a time of protests which ended up in a coup, and while it was a time of heightened political sensitivity (which has continued), and my questions were often directly about politics, our conversations often veered into non-political areas. I wanted to know how old monks were, how long they had been monks what kind of educational background they had. This was how I learned about the sons of monks. One day in March, while walking through Lumpini Park, I encountered a monk who was in a booth collecting money for rice farmers. Lumpini is a large green space near one of the key shopping/business centers of Bangkok, and when the protests were consolidated after the failed elections of February, they ended up in Lumpini (taking away one of the few exercise areas for many residents of the City of Angels). This was not the first monk that I encountered in Lumpini, but unlike those monks, this monk was happy to speak with me about his views on politics. He admitted to me that he was not the most knowledgeable monk around, and that I should really be talking with one of the protest leaders, Luang Pho Buddha Issara, but he was happy to chat. Perhaps it was because he also wanted to test his English; this was a monk who had lived in Texas for a few years while in the military (probably as some sort of liaison between the US and Thai militaries). He told me he and his wife divorced while he was there, and that his son had remained with his ex-wife when he came back to Thailand. We kept talking for a few minutes, and then it hit me. “You have a son?” “Of course.” I asked the monk if his relationship with his son had changed, and he told me of course it had, but it also seemed that he had not seen his son since he had ordained five years prior.

This was a revelation to me – monks with sons! And it has a perfectly straightforward explanation, not at all associated with monks fathering children. Among the 120,000 or so monks in the Thai Sangha there are many who ordain after they retire, when their spouses have either died or they have gotten a divorce. This is a normal practice within Thailand and other parts of mainland Southeast Asia, though these monks tend not to have a very high status. This is because they have become monks after they have been members of society, usually though not always with spouses, children, jobs and so forth. They have been tainted, as it were, by the world; they have not spent much time in robes, and their knowledge of the teachings of the Buddha, some of these men would tell me, is not very great.  (And of course they are in good company – the Buddha had a son, Rahula, before he became the Buddha.)

Over the next few weeks, it seemed, every time I went to a new wat, I encountered another old monk who was also a father. And I started asking these men about their children. Some were like the monk in Lumpini Park, telling me that their relationship with their children had changed a great deal. Others were far less willing to abandon the nature of their familial relationships. “Of course, it’s the same,” said one monk. “A father is a father; this doesn’t change when you become a monk.” He told me that he would see his son and his granddaughter regularly; there were no problems with this – the son would come and pay his respects to his father, making merit with him a couple of times a month. I suspect that their relationship did change – I know my children don’t regularly make merit to me – but perhaps less than one might expect.

The most interesting conversation wasn’t with a monk at all, but rather with the nun Bhikkhuni Dhammananda. Venerable Dhammananda has been at the center of efforts in Thailand to reestablish an order of nuns, part of wider efforts to reestablish this order throughout the Theravada world). Ven. Dhammananda was formerly a successful academic, Chatsumarn Kabilsingh who decided a number of years ago to take the higher ordination. She resides with a handful of nuns a couple of hours to the west of Bangkok at a wat that was founded by her mother. While her efforts have received some support from individual monks within Thailand, the Sangha hierarchy as a whole has said that her ordination is not legitimate, which puts her in something of an ambiguous state within Thailand. When I interviewed her in February 2014 (again about questions of citizenship), I also asked her if she had children, and how they had responded to her decision to ordain. She told me that her sons were adults, and that they supported her efforts, but also that her relationship with them had changed in radical ways. They too regularly made merit at her temple, but she could not be in a room alone with them anymore because of a need to maintain a very high standard of propriety (cue the comment about plenty of space for mediocre men in an institution, but none for mediocre women). She also said though that she and the other nuns at the wat loved to see her granddaughter. As proof of this, there was a picture of the granddaughter on the side of the wat’s refrigerator.

When I conducted research on Theravada, minority monks of Southwest China in 2001-2002, I was accompanied by my wife and our now 15 year old son who was one at the time. He fascinated the monks and the novices of the wat. They would play with him every day after I taught English to the novices – they even threw his first birthday party, making him cry when they sang Happy Birthday (see the picture). When I have returned to the region, even after a decade, the monks ask how he was doing and if he remembered them.

Jasper first birthday party.wat pajie

One day in spring 2002, when the abbot and I were chatting and watching the novices play with my son, he sighed and said, “Children, they are lovely…but they are dukkha,” using the term that is part of the “first truth” of Buddhism, that suffering or dis-ease is an inevitability in existence. This seemed a curious thing to say at the time, because the abbot was as likely to play with my son as the novices were (if not quite as boisterously). I don’t know why he mentioned this, but I do know that for many years, the abbot (a figure who has “left home”) supported his younger sister and her children after they had come to Southwest China from the Shan States in Myanmar. While not a father, perhaps he was feeling a little too clearly the difficulties that familial attachments inevitably cause.

The abbot’s comment is one that we have come to expect from the monastics of Buddhism. After all, it conforms with the ideal that we find in a number of Pali texts such as the Khuddaka Nikaya which talks of monks “wander[ing] alone like a rhinoceros,” or the Dhammapada: “Better it is to live alone; there is no fellowship with a fool. Live alone and do no evil; be carefree like an elephant in the forest.” (trans. By Acharya Bodhirakkhita, 1985; accessed at www.buddhanet.net). This also fits nicely into Weber’s influential framing of Buddhism as “other-worldly asceticism.” It is also, if not wrong, at least too limited a way of looking at Buddhist religious specialists, confusing an ideal within Buddhism with the ideal.

Why does this matter (beyond the fact that I have a bit better sense of the experience of Thai Buddhists)? There are two points here. First scholarly work in English on monastics and families has been insufficient. Gregory Schopen twenty years ago drew our collective attention to how inscriptions showed monastics dedicating merit to their parents. More recently Shayne Clarke’s (2014) Family Matters in Indian Buddhist Monasticisms reading of disciplinary commentaries tells us that family relations inside and outside the monastery were of significant concern, and there is a special issue of the Journal of Global Buddhism (released a few weeks ago) which is dedicated to the “Family in Modern Buddhism.” While this work is welcome, it is really focused on pre 20th century Buddhisms, or on Japanese forms which have a long history of clerical marriage. Indeed, with the exception of a chapter on monastic recruitment in Jeffrey Samuels’ important book on emotion in Sri Lankan monastic culture, Attracting the Heart, there has been no attention to the position of Theravada monks in the contemporary world as members of families (let alone as fathers).

This insufficient scholarship points to a problem with the way we have framed our interests in monks and nuns as actors, no doubt. But I suspect that there is a broad reluctance within the Thai world (and indeed perhaps the Theravada world more broadly) to talk about the ways that monks remain imbricated within family relations, and certainly with the ways that they could be fathers. The status of monks as sons is clear and obvious since the merit of ordination is often dedicated to one’s parents. And Thais are certainly aware that monks can be sexual beings, and were before they ordained, but that sexuality is a problem to be resolved or repressed once one has taken on robes. Moreover, structurally, monks have left the family, even if they still communicate with their family members regularly. Most of the monks I have talked to in Thailand (and indeed in China as well) are willing to answer questions about their families, but they rarely bring them up in the course of a conversation. In other words, while these “monks with sons” are nothing out of the ordinary, they are a subject about which Thai Buddhists are generally silent.

So let me modify my opening statement. There are monks with sons in Bangkok, but I don’t know if there are a lot of them, or if this is a significant phenomenon or not. However, because of scholarly inattention and internal silences, no one else does either.

Some Wonder Why and Why Still: Reflections on the Charleston, SC Church Shooting

Todne Thomas Chipumuro

Cariari, Costa Rica

6/18/15

Yesterday, I arrived in Costa Rica to prepare for a writer’s retreat that I will attend for the next five days. As I checked my social media feed over my morning coffee, I was alarmed to discover that a white gunman shot and killed nine black Bible study attendees last night at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina last night. The young white man (who is now being identified as 21-year old Dylan Storm Roof)[1] allegedly sat in on the service before nearly an hour before he voiced racist anti-black rhetoric and murdered the three men and six women present[2]. Shocked into reality, my unexamined idea that my writing retreat here could also double as a respite from the onslaught of news about anti-black violence in the United States and the anti-black citizenship discourses and Haitian deportations proposed by the Dominican Republic has quickly dissipated. Black lives here and there are being devalued by the state and its citizens. Blackness, though somehow being called into question by the scandal of racial shapeshifters, still remains an alibi for white supremacist dehumanization, expulsion, social and literal death.

 

The current tragedy being weathered by the membership of Emanuel AME Church and the broader Charleston community is significant for a number of reasons. As I alluded to above, it evokes a broader conversation about the virulent anti-black racism that is presently being enacted upon black bodies, visualized by technological innovations, and circulated for broader conversation and consumption. Such violence has been a steady testament to the racism that structures carceral govermentality including policing practices and has also initiated meditations on black humanity, the valuation of black lives, the in/visibility of violence against black women and black transgender people, and black theodicy—a theological contemplation about the reasons for black pain and suffering best expressed by a Charleston pastor during a prayer vigil last night, “The question is God: why? Somebody here tonight needs to know.[3]

 

Nonetheless, the shooting at Emanuel AME is tentatively being classified as a hate crime and is being represented by police representatives and local political figures as a heinous and grievous act, a moral tone not often attributed to the killings of African Americans by police on the part of the mainstream criminal justice establishment. Moreover, the shooting took place within the institution of the church often stably understood as the private sphere, not the public domain of the street, or the contested public/private spaces of the streets and pools of gated communities involved in Sanford, FL or McKinney, TX. The shooting of African Americans within the sanctified, private grounds of the church presumably signals a different kind of targeting, a hateful intentionality that is perhaps not associated with the other instances of anti-black violence we are witnessing in the news. Dylan Roof emerges as a “proper racist” that can be castigated by the broader body politic, a black-and-white case study of hatred that does not speak to the collective ambivalences, cognitive racial biases, and racial anxieties of post-racial racism.   Nonetheless, I would advise caution in divorcing the Charleston shooting from the broader context of anti-black violence that we are witnessing and experiencing; of decontextualizing this as an individual civilian crime; of making this an issue of the private sphere that is divorced from contemporary contemplations of the state. In the poignant conversation “Do Black Lives Matter?: Robin D.G. Kelley and Fred Moten in conversation,” Moten observes that the shooting of Mike Brown illustrates a broader impulse of white settler colonialism and the white supremacist heteropatriarchal state: the execution of black social life which is defined as an insurgent sociality.[4] It is that sociality, signified by black youth like Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and the gathering of the slain members of Emanuel AME, that is othered, harassed, and surveilled by the state, state employees, and civilians who deputize themselves as protectors of white supremacist capitalism.

 

From a historical perspective, the shooting at Emanuel AME is also important because of the particular history of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) denomination and of the historical role of black churches more broadly. Emanuel AME is shaped by a genealogy of African American Christian protest. The AME Church is the first black-organized religious denomination in the United States. Dating back to 1816, the AME denomination was organized by the former slave Richard Allen and his contemporaries who were disaffected with the racial marginalization they experienced in the predominately white St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, PA.[5] An extension of a critical African American institutional and religious complex that sought to create spaces of sanctuary (like the Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia organized in 1793) in which people of African descent could worship, rebel, and nourish their full humanity, the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston was founded in 1816 as well during the early days of the AME denomination. A black southern church with its own rich history that has been heavily shaped by the white supremacist plantation complex and governance, Emanuel AME Church was burned during the events and controversy surrounding the Denmark Vesey slave revolt in 1822—a revolt that was shaped by a radical anti-racist emancipatory view of Christianity. The church was soon rebuilt. Services however were forced underground when all local black churches were outlawed in 1834. The membership of Emanuel AME has thus inherited a tradition of struggle and endurance.

 

More broadly, black churches like Emanuel AME with its own denominational history of fostering Afro-Christian critique and institutional self-determination and other southern black churches were shaped by the moral critique fostered by the Civil Rights movement in the mid-twentieth century. It was during these times in which the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL (a key site for civil rights activism) was bombed by white supremacists in 1963 killing four African American girls. The Black Church, then, in a popular white supremacist consciousness emerged as a threat, a site of insurgency, and a strategic node for terrorism. The interplay between black churches and black protest in the times of slavery and the Civil Rights movement has generated a black civic religiosity, embodied in the senatorial career of the recently deceased Emanuel AME pastor Rev. Clementa Pinckney. Therefore, a normative reading of Emanuel AME as distinct and safely ensconced in the private sphere, of the black church solely as a space of black worship and sanctuary divorced from the state, and of the perpetrator as a civilian acting individually divorced from the state must be re-contextualized within a broader context of racist governmenality and Afro-Christian struggle.

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/18/dylann-storm-roof-charleston-church-shooting-suspect_n_7612232.html

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/19/us/charleston-church-shooting.html

[3] http://www.wsj.com/articles/shooting-erupts-at-historic-black-church-in-charleston-south-carolina-1434601669

[4] https://vimeo.com/116111740

[5]http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&ved=0CDQQFjAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Fnationalhumanitiescenter.org%2Fpds%2Fmaai%2Fcommunity%2Ftext3%2Fallenmethodism.pdf&ei=j_aCVeVehMWCBL-ugKgG&usg=AFQjCNEJ9jdNR-QNA93mHTA9K3JOrD86Dw&sig2=fChkVmD1Yaf6jT6rQP00FA&bvm=bv.96041959,d.eXY

Maeve Herrick—Robert D. Benedict Award Recipient

Maeve receiving the Robert B. Benedict Award from Prof. Peter vonDoepp. Global & Regional Studies Interim Director

Maeve receiving the Robert B. Benedict Award from Prof. Peter vonDoepp. Global & Regional Studies Interim Director

Maeve Herrick, a senior Religion major, was presented with the Robert D. Benedict Award for the Best Essay in the Field of International Affairs. Her essay is entitled, “The Sacred City of Anuradhapura: Perpetuating Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism through a UNESCO World Heritage Site.”


Some reflections on my research                                    by Maeve Herrick

 Coming up with a topic for my senior paper, which I would be working on over two semesters, was daunting. I was in the class, Buddhism in Sri Lanka, so my topic was going to connect to the title of the course, generally. Because I am a religion and anthropology double major, I also wanted the project to connect in some way to archaeology, which is my concentration in anthropology. Professor Trainor suggested that I look into the “Sacred City of Anuradhapura,” a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka. As I began to research the city my topic solidified and I became interested in understanding the relationships between Buddhism, Sinhala nationalism, and UNESCO and the ways in which those relationships have been manifested in Anuradhapura. I discovered that the position of the Sacred City of Anuradhapura as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is significant because it exemplifies how UNESCO may be used as a pawn by nationalists who wish to legitimize and create enduring claims to a place. My research on the Sacred City of Anuradhapura explores different narratives concerning the history of the city, the ways that the city was reimagined by Sinhala Buddhist nationalists throughout the twentieth century, and how its inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage site is problematic.


UNESCO TV video on the Great Bodhi Tree in Anuradhapura

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/200/video


A substantial part of my research was involved in examining Sinhala Buddhist Nationalist Brahmacari Harischandra’s claims concerning Anuradhapura, and understanding both how his imagining of the city is inaccurate, and why he constructs the city in the way he does. Harischandra argues that the British presence and archaeological research in Anuradhapura is desecrating the monuments there, that the city is a solely Sinhala Buddhist space, and that the ancient city was physically separated into secular and sacred spaces (Harischandra 1908). It is because of his opposition to British colonialism, his efforts towards the “regeneration of Buddhism and Sinhala culture that had both declined under the harmful influences of colonialism (Seneviratne 1999:28-9),” and his belief that the Sinhala nation has sole rights to the city and to Sri Lanka that Harischandra constructs the history and space of the city in a way that marginalizes other groups in the city (Harischandra 1908, Berkwitz 2004, 35).

Despite the inaccuracies of Harischandra’s understanding of Anuradhapura, in 1948 the city of Anuradhapura was constructed in such a way that Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism became physically manifested in the space (Nissan 1989, 65). Non-Buddhist religious buildings, such as churches, a mosque, and a Hindu temple were removed from the old city of Anuradhapura and many families were relocated from the old city and moved to the nearby New City (Nissan 1989, 65-74). The destruction of Hindu, Muslim, and Christian religious buildings is symbolic; the people connected to these buildings are not understood to be a part of the nation that is laying claim to the space they occupied, and to the entire island. This construction of Anuradhapura places it as a Sinhala Buddhist place, creating a physical space for the nation of Sinhala Buddhists to claim exclusive heritage.

I was also concerned with the way that UNESCO has been used to legitimize and perpetuate Sinhala Buddhist Nationalist claims to the city. In 1982 the Sacred City of Anuradhapura became a UNESCO World Heritage Site (UNESCO World Heritage Centre. 2015). The process of inscription for World Heritage Sites is problematic and has been criticized because sites are nominated by those who possess power (Askew 2010, 22). The Sinhala Buddhist government advocated for Anuradhapura to become a World Heritage Site (Silva 1988, 18). Representations, narratives, and the physical space of the city perpetuate and embody the city as the foundation of Sinhala Buddhist nationhood while marginalizing Tamil and other groups within Anuradhapura (Askew 2010, 22). Inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site legitimizes these narratives, in addition to providing monetary support for continued preservation of the city (Askew 2010, 22, World Heritage Centre 2008, 10).

The severity of the Sinhala Buddhist Nationalist claim to Anuradhapura is evident in a 1985 Tamil attack on the city, where many people were killed, including a number of bhikkhus and bhikkhunis [Buddhist monks and nuns] who were at the Sri Maha Bodhiya, the most important site for Sri Lankan Buddhists (Wickremeratne 2006, 158-159, The Globe and Mail 1985, The Guardian 1985, Nissan 1989, 65). Elizabeth Nissan contextualizes the attack, “In stopping to attack this tree, it could be argued, the gunmen (presumed to have been Tamil ‘Tigers’) attacked a whole construction of the island as continuously and inviolably Sinhala Buddhist” (Nissan 1989, 65). I show that this act of violence was in part a product of decades of nation building, heritage construction, and hegemonic claims to Anuradhapura by Sinhala Buddhist Nationalists (Nissan 1989, 65-67). This construction of knowledge, heritage, and nationhood was aided and legitimized by the inscription of Anuradhapura as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was advocated by those who would benefit most from exclusive claims to Sri Lankan history (Silva 1988, 18).

My research on Anuradhapura exemplifies the ways in which archaeology can be misused by those in power in order to perpetuate nationalist ideologies, to make hegemonic claims to archaeological sites, and to disenfranchise certain groups from their heritage. In the fall I will be pursuing my master’s degree in anthropology with a concentration in archaeology at the University of Denver. I plan to focus on the ways in which archaeologists can better engage with the public in order to change and improve the ways in which knowledge about the past is constructed.


Bibliography:

  1. “Tamil attack kills eighty / Massacre of civilians in Sri Lankan town of Anuradhapura.” The Guardian (London). (May 15).
  2. “Toll climbs to 145 in Tamil massacre.” The Globe and Mail (Canada). (May 15).

Askew, Marc. 2010. “The Magic List of Global Status: UNESCO, World Heritage and the Agnedas of States.” In Heritage and Globalisation, edited by Sophia Labadi and Colin Long, 19-44. New York, NY: Routledge.

Berkwitz, Stephen C. 2004. “History and Textuality.” In Buddhist History in the Vernacular: The Power of the Past in Late Medieval Sri Lanka, 20-37. Boston, MA: Brill. Blackboard.

Greenwald, Alice. 1978. “The Relic on the Spear: Historiography and the Saga of Dutthagamani.” In Religion and Legitimation of Power in Sri Lanka, edited by Bardwell L. Smith, 13-35. Chambersburg, PA: Conococheague Associates, Inc.

Harischandra, Walsinha. 1908. The Sacred City of Anuradhapura. University of California. Accessed October 17, 2014. Google Books.

The Mahavamsa or The Great Chronicle of Ceylon. 1912. Translated by Wilhelm Geiger, London: Oxford University Press. University of California CDL. Ebscohost.

Nissan, Elizabeth. 1989. “History in the Making: Anuradhapura and the Sinhala Buddhist Nation.” Social Analysis: The International Journal of Social and Cultural Practice 25 Identity, Consciousness and The Past: The South Asian Scene,  64-77.

Silva, Roland. 1988. “The Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka: One Of 32 International Cultural Heritage Projects Launched by UNESCO.” Icomos information 3: 26-35.

UNESCO World Heritage Centre. 2015. “Sacred City of Anuradhapura: Description.” UNESCO World Heritage Center. Accessed May 16, 2015. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/200

Wickremeratne, Swarna. 2006. “Bodhi Puja: All for the Sake of a Tree.” In Buddha in Sri Lanka, 157-166. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

 

Kathryn Meader—Outstanding Senior in Religion Award Recipient

meader photoA Reflection by Kathryn Meader

Since the beginning of my college career I found myself drawn to the Religion Department. Whether this was because of the personalities of the professors, or the content of their classes, one cannot be entirely sure. Regardless of the reasons, my time with this department has always led to interesting conversations that inevitably stimulated my interest in the study of religion even further. My love of history and its connections with religion truly found an outlet in my study of medieval Christianity, and my research on the twelfth-century abbess, Heloise d’Argenteuil.

This spring, I had the opportunity to participate in the Undergraduate Research Conference held at UVM on April 23rd, and created a poster to introduce my research and its goals. It was lots of fun talking with people about a topic that I am so passionate about, as well as showing that poster presentations aren’t just for the sciences! Being able to create a concise presentation of a very large project is an important skill to acquire, and by presenting my work to others I was better able to understand what my own goals were in finishing the project. Presenting work can often be the most challenging part of a course, but it is always a true test of your own knowledge and grasp of the subject. I enjoyed working closely with an advisor in the Religion Department on a large project, and that was definitely the academic highlight of my senior year. Beyond that, it served as a perfect capstone for all of the skills that I have acquired throughout my four years at UVM.

Going forward after graduation, I plan to stay in the Burlington area for the next year at least, and hopefully find a position with an institution that continues to stimulate my curiosity. I hope to find an outlet to continue exploring the various experiences of religion in daily life, and the history of religious institutions. I will be forever grateful for my time at UVM, and especially for the time I’ve spent with the wonderful professors at 481 Main.

Student Research Conference Poster


Kathryn, who is from Marshfield, Massachusetts, is a double major in Religion and History, and a member of the History honors society, Phi Alpha Theta.

Monks, Politics and anti-politics

http://www.ispacethailand.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/monk_suthep_bangkok.jpg

What do you do when religion and politics get mixed up? In Thailand, this has happened recently, largely in the midst of the larger conflict that has been going on in society for the last decade.

 

In the last few weeks, there have been three different stories in the English media in Thailand involving Buddhist monks and temples. The first two, from the English-language branch of the “Khaosod” (“Fresh News!”) website, had a distinctly “yellow” – as in yellow shirt (royalist) – hue. The first was about everyone’s “favorite” firebrand monk, Buddha Issara. Luang Puu Buddha Issara was one of the protest leaders from January to May of this year which aimed to “shut down Bangkok,” prevent elections in February and generally make things miserable for the caretaker government led by Yingluck Shinawatra. These protests, ostensibly about the corruption of the Thai government, ultimately precipitated the coup in May. In mid-November, Buddha Issara delivered a letter to the legislative and reform council of Thailand providing several proposals about how to reform Thai society and get rid of corruption. The article is not about the letter he delivered, but about the warm reception he received from the lawmakers who said that they appreciated his letter, and that his proposal is “very beneficial to the administration and economy of [the] nation.” Buddha Issara is a fascinating monk, in part because (at least when I was in Bangkok last spring) he was something of a bell weather of people’s political stance. With some interesting exceptions among monks, people who were generally “reds” (red shirts – pro-democracy/Thaksin/anti-royalist party, though not anti king) disliked him and said he was “not a monk,” and those that were generally “yellow” appreciated what he was doing in leading the protests.

http://www.chiangraitimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Untitled.png

The second article is about a monk, Phra Papakaro (receiving alms in picture above), giving a decoration to a high-ranking police officer in Surat Thani, one of the Southern provinces of Thailand. Phra Papakaro was, until recently, also a protest leader, and former politician, named Suthep Taungsubal. Suthep is a former deputy prime minister, and leader of the Democrat Party, and was the principle leader of the protests that took place starting in the fall on 2014, precipitated by the amnesty bill put forward by Yingluck, which was opposed by most Thais on the grounds that it would have pardoned her brother (on the Red side) and the leaders of the Democrat Party that ordered the clearing of central Bangkok in 2010 which led to the deaths of some 70 protesters and another twenty or so members of the police/military. These leaders were primarily Suthep and Abhisit, the Prime Minister at the time. Suthep was the leader of most of the protests from January to May 2014, but Buddha Issara was an aligned figure, a fellow traveler in the yellow movement if you will, rather than a follower of Suthep’s (and indeed, throughout the spring, there were various moments of tension between these two figures; the first picture is the two of them talking). In the immediate aftermath of the coup in May, Suthep crowed a great deal about his close relationship with General Prayuth (the leader of the coup, and now the prime minister). While the coup-led government has worked hard to institute reforms that resemble what the protesters were calling for, particularly in June, it also wanted to call itself independent and Gen Prayuth did not appreciate Suthep’s general demeanor. And so right about a month later, Suthep ordained as a monk. In this he has followed a well-worn path of politicians seeking to avoid political troubles in the monkhood.

 

This brings us to the last piece, an op-ed in the Bangkok Post by Sanitsuda Ekachai, is about the need to keep Suan Mokh free of politics. Suan Mokh is a temple that was established by the important reformist monk, Buddhadasa, in the early 1930s as a place to reform Thai Buddhism and “return to the roots of Buddhism.” It has been an important place over the decades for meditation movements in Thailand (as well as reflective of Buddhadasa’s fairly eclectic architectural vision) and middle class Thais and foreigners interested in meditation programs have flocked there over the decades, though by most accounts it’s been fairly quiet since Buddhadasa’s death in the early 1990s. It is also where Suthep/Papakaro, the erstwhile leader of the protests leading up to the coup in May has gone since he ordained this past summer. As Khun Sanitsuda notes, hundreds of people come to visit Suthep each week, not so much disturbing the peace of the place as giving it an overtly yellow-shirted cast that it had not had before. Moreover, while monks are forbidden by an order of the Supreme Sangha Council from participating in politics, Suthep bestowed a decoration on a Surat Thani policeman, described in the article as a “hardcore yellowshirt” activist. This he did as a monk.

 

Here’s the thing that I think is interesting about the coincidence of these two events: the play of politics, or rather the way that “politics” becomes a problem for monks to address. As noted above, monks are not supposed to be involved with politics because they are supposed to be learning, preserving and teaching the dhamma. Good/pure/original Buddhism is free of politics,

just as Khun Sanitsuda suggests Suan Mokh should be. The opposite is also true – Buddhism which is not free of politics is necessarily tainted. And indeed one of the critiques that one occasionally hears about monks like Buddha Issara is that they are tainted by politics, they are “political monks”. Yet in many ways this is an anti-political discourse, in which Thais (among others) fail to acknowledge or perhaps better specifically refuse to acknowledge how monks are engaged in politics. Khun Sanitsuda talks about Suan Mokh under Buddhadasa as a place that was free of politics but then she notes that he was critical of capitalism and urged inter-faith understanding with Muslims (who are a much larger part of the population in the southern part of Thailand). These are of course highly political acts and being accused of being a communist in Thailand during the Cold War potentially had serious consequences (just as reading 1984 in public or using the Hunger Games salute can be in this post-coup moment).

 

Ironically, when I interviewed Buddha Issara in June, he told me that he was not involved with politics. Rather there was a crisis for the people and what he was doing was because there was no one else that was speaking for the people. Just to bring it all back together, when I asked Buddha Issara if there were any monks that he admired, he paused and said Buddhadasa, the founder of Suan Mokh.

Objects in Focus at the Fleming

Sri_Lanken_mask_10_14The Fleming Museum has an impressive collection of 17 Sri Lankan masks dating from the late nineteenth century, which were created for use in two ritual settings in Sri Lanka: yaktovil healing ceremonies and kolam folk dramas. The masks were brought to Vermont by two collectors, Joseph Winterbotham and Henry LeGrand Cannon. The majestic yaktovil mask pictured here, which measures 82 cm in height, was acquired by Cannon and probably dates to the late 1800s. The carved wooden mask depicts Maha Kola Sanni Yaka, chief of the sanni yakku, a group of 18 malevolent spirits who afflict humans by causing a variety of illnesses. These misfortunes are cured through elaborate night-long healing ceremonies in which ritual specialists embody the various spirits and subdue them through offerings and by dramatically representing their subservience to the power of the Buddha. Masks of this size were displayed during these ceremonies rather than put on, though a smaller mask of Maha Kola Sanniya was likely worn in the course of the ceremony. This particular mask is quite rare, with only a few examples found in museum collections around the world. The 18 spirits who are under Maha Kola Sanniya’s control can be seen depicted on either side of his face.

In 2008 the museum mounted an exhibition of Sri Lankan masks from their permanent collection and I had the opportunity to give a talk on the masks displayed in the exhibit, seen in the context of the healing rituals in which they traditionally play a vital part. In the course of my talk, I highlighted the theme of “framing,” the process through which we identify particular objects as the focus of our attention and define a context within which to view them and interpret their significance. Since then I have regularly brought students in my seminar on Sri Lankan Buddhism to the museum to encounter the masks, including Maha Kola Sanniya, and to reflect on the contrast between how the masks might be used in a Sri Lankan healing ritual and how they appear as objects in the museum, whether we view them as art objects or ethnographic specimens. I ask students to consider how we should frame these masks to grasp the power of their gaze and our own unconscious perspectives. What other objects should we place inside the frame to illuminate their meaning? Should we display them with examples of medical equipment, a stethoscope for example? Or would it make sense to place them within a display of theatre props? Or perhaps we should look for them amidst the great array of statues and artifacts that adorned the shelves and desk of Sigmund Freud’s study. What or whom do they represent, and how should we represent them?

A look at how the mask’s American collector, Henry LeGrand Cannon, framed this mask before it was donated to the museum provides one revealing chapter in what we can think of as the mask’s biography. Henry was the son of Col. LeGrand B. Cannon, a prominent New York transportation magnate who owned Lake Champlain Transportation and maintained a grand summer residence in Burlington (“Overlake”). The son traveled widely in South and Southeast Asia as a young man, collecting an extensive array of artifacts, which he kept in a special room in the family’s Burlington mansion devoted to his “East India curios and bric-a-brac.” Henry was also a gifted sculptor who exhibited his work in New York and at the 1893 Columbia Exposition in Chicago. This photo from the Fleming Museum shows him sitting at leisure in his “India Room”:Canon_in_roomFollowing Cannon’s untimely death in 1895, his collection of 600 objects was donated to the Fleming, which at that time was primarily an ethnographic collection overseen by UVM Professor George Henry Perkins, a natural historian with broad interests in human culture; Perkins instituted one of the first university courses in anthropology taught in the U.S. In 1898 a special room modeled after Cannon’s India Room (now the west wing of Torrey Hall), was constructed to house the collection. The Cannon Room continued to be very popular with museum visitors, and it was reinstalled many times, remaining largely intact even as it made the move into the new Fleming Museum, built in 1931; it remained a part of the museum until the mid-1980s when the museum underwent a major renovation. Here is a view of the Cannon Room after it was installed in the new museum, with the Maha Kola Sanniya mask prominently displayed above Cannon’s portrait:cannon room 30sDepending upon how we frame the mask, whether as art object or ethnographic specimen, our focus shifts to different aspects of its material presence and its sensory surround. What matters is that we attend closely to its current material form, while remaining attuned to the diversity of cultural practices that have shaped its past uses, and brought it to rest today in the climate-controlled security of the museum’s storage facility. My thanks to the Fleming for preserving this precious object for over a century, giving us the opportunity to view it within multiple frames and from various points of view.

The Zombie as Ethical Guardian: An Aperitif Before Consumption?

by Todne Thomas Chipumuro

It’s Halloween season. The crisp fall air pairs with the final scenes of colorful foliage. Children are giddy with the prospects of receiving candy in exchange for their cute or frightening frocks. College students appear to be just as excited as they whisper about weekend plans and costume choices with their classmates. Amongst the bevy of options they contemplate and discuss are the supernatural cast of characters that include vampires, witches, fairies, werewolves, and zombies.

Within a contemporary U.S. socio-cultural milieu, zombies often appear in films as a destructive horde singularly focused on cannibalizing humans who are often left to survive amidst the ruins of shattered societies. From the ravenous, rotting corpses that terrorize remnant communities on The Walking Dead and World War Z, to the virally-infected hosts that horrify humans in I Am Legend, Resident Evil, and 28 Days Later, to the disenchanted but awkwardly well-meaning zombies of Warm Bodies, zombies have become more than fixtures of the silver screen. Zombies and the forms of apocalypse they foretell have become their own genre of U.S. popular culture that illustrate the disasters that can be wrought by an over-zealous bio-industrial military complex, capitalist overconsumption, and, I would argue, the dystopia of economic recession. Not just a cinematic fixture, the zombie emerges as a symbol of danger, lifelessness, ugliness, and contagion that has been mobilized to describe economics, modernity, Jesus, and even pumpkins. More broadly, the zombie emerges as a figure that exists beyond the boundaries of life and humanity. Animated but not alive, consumptive but never satiated, the zombie symbolizes liminality in perpetuity—the social condition of being caught betwixt and between states of existence, the alienations of capitalism, and the limbo of postmodernity.

Far from a contemporary creation, the zombie of the U.S. popular culture landscape descends from two predecessors: the zombie produced through a U.S. imperial and racial imaginary during the U.S. occupation of Haiti (1915-1934) and the zonbi of Vodou religious culture. The U.S. popular cultural zombie emerged as a bricolage of foreign travelogues, folklore accounts, and U.S. military accounts of Vodou religious practice shaped by unexamined imperialist beliefs in Haitian racial and religious primitivism. If Vodou (a syncretic religion generated by enslaved Africans’ creative combinations of traditional African religious practices and Catholic ritual ways and iconography) became mobilized as evidence of Haitian social degeneracy and incapacities for self-governance, the zombie became a symbolic lynchpin in the argument for U.S. military and economic intervention.

Translated from the pages of foreign accounts into the emerging horror genre of Hollywood with the film White Zombie (1932), the zombie emerged as a “postcolonial sub-subaltern monster” that terrorized white western audiences with the prospects of being “dominated, subjugated, and effectively ‘colonized’ by a native pagan” (Bishop 2008: 141-142). The zombie, then, first entered U.S. popular culture as a symbol of racial and imperial anxieties about Western dominance and postcolonial retribution. The zombie imagery popularized by Romero’s famous film Night of the Living Dead (1968) is set in a different decade but reflects related socio-political constructs about racial otherness and societal decay.

The zonbi of Vodou religious culture provocatively speaks to another set of historical and ethical concerns. For Vodou practitioners, the zonbi symbolizes the ways in which the stakeholders of the French plantation regime attempted to reduce enslaved persons to the value of the labor produced by their bodies. If, as aptly worded by Martinican intellectual Aime Cesaire in Discourse on Colonialism, “colonization = thingification,” the zonbi (a laboring body devoid of agency whose sole purpose is to minister to the desires and whims of the bokor/sorcerer who resurrected him/her) becomes a powerful illustration of the dehumanization and commoditization of slavery.

In the postcolonial society made possible by a successful Haitian revolution against the French, the zonbi continued to reflect exploitative social dynamics through its association with the torture and silencing of dissidents and everyday individuals during a Duvalier regime that was imagined as an ensorcelling dictatorship. Aside from the zonbi’s reflection of the exploitative evacuation of human agency by colonial and postcolonial stakeholders, a number of theories abound about the socio-cultural and ethno-botanical constructions of the zonbi. One such reading outlines the zonbi as an embodied form of punishment against individuals who grossly violate community ethics. As described by anthropologist Elizabeth McAlister:

One extreme and rare form of punishment these societies can hand down to a criminal is to be made into a zonbi zo kadav, whereby his spirit is extracted from his body and his body is sold into modern-day slavery to cut cane on a sugar plantation….The body is then left as a religious and social corpse” (2012: 469-470).

The zonbi created as a community response to malignant individualism is just as stringent as it is allegedly final. While such a process of zonbification raises important questions about vigilantism, power, representation, and agency, I would also contend that the zonbi of Vodou religious culture can be understood as a symbolic guardian of an ethics of reciprocity. The zonbi’s plight across a variety of Haitian contexts and imaginations thus speaks not only to an indemnification of overconsumption but of communities interested in making interventions to prevent social cataclysm. Thus, the zonbi emerges as an individual objectified figure constituted by a broader narrative of community agency. As argued by Christopher Moreman and Cory Rushton in their cross-cultural study of zombie appropriation, “In many respects it looks as though the Haitian zombie is a thing of the past, permanently eclipsed by the success of Romero’s cannibals” (2011: 5). But what if we take a moment to place the zonbi in its proper context? To do so would be to partake of an aperitif—to study our understandings of community, the ethics of social relationship, and the legacy and contemporary dimensions of U.S. socio-political engagements rather than robotically consuming an appropriated icon.

 

Works Cited

Bishop, Kyle

2008      The Sub-Subaltern Monster: Imperialist Hegemony and the Cinematic Voodoo Zombie. Journal of American Culture 31(2): 141-152

Cesaire, Aime

2000[1972] Discourse on Colonialism. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Moreman, Christopher and Rushton, Cory, eds.

2011       Race, Oppression, and the Zombie: Essays on Cross-Cultural Appropriations of the Caribbean Tradition

McAlister, Elizabeth

2012        Slaves, Cannibals, and Infected Hyper-Whites: The Race and Religion of Zombies. Anthropological Quarterly 85(2): 457-486.