From 1893 onward, French colonialism sponsored and restructured Lao and Khmer Buddhism in order to create an ‘Indochinese Buddhism’. Over a span of several decades, the French promoted monastic education, reconstructed the major temples in Vientiane, and renovated the That Luang, the most important Buddhist relic shrine of Laos. This article explores the motivations and strategies for this endeavor, specifically focusing on French efforts to ‘re-materialize’ Lao Buddhism’s religious architecture. I argue that the renovation of these monuments as symbols and centers of power under the auspices of the École française d’Extrême-Orient was based on mimetic processes that should be understood as a form of ceremonial governmentality and colonial politics of affect, whose goal was to win the ‘sympathies’ of the colonized.
The Patronage of Lao Buddhism and the Reconstruction of Relic Shrines and Temples in Colonial French Indochina
Mimetic Governmentality, Colonialism, and the State
Patrice Ladwig and Ricardo Roque
Engaging critically with literature on mimesis, colonialism, and the state in anthropology and history, this introduction argues for an approach to mimesis and imitation as constitutive of the state and its forms of rule and governmentality in the context of late European colonialism. It explores how the colonial state attempted to administer, control, and integrate its indigenous subjects through mimetic policies of governance, while examining how indigenous polities adopted imitative practices in order to establish reciprocal ties with, or to resist the presence of, the colonial state. In introducing this special issue, three main themes will be addressed: mimesis as a strategic policy of colonial government, as an object of colonial regulation, and, finally, as a creative indigenous appropriation of external forms of state power.
Legacies, Trajectories, and Comparison in the Anthropology of Buddhism
Nicolas Sihlé and Patrice Ladwig
The anthropology of Buddhism may give the impression of already having a well-established lineage. However, understood as a collective endeavor bringing together specialists from different parts of the Buddhist world in a comparative spirit, it remains very much an emerging project. We outline in this introduction some of the striking features of the beginnings of this subfield, such as how it has undergone a process of emancipation from textualist interpretations of Buddhism, and survey some of its main thematic and analytic orientations, pointing in particular to its most substantial ‘long conversation’, on the structure and dynamics of Buddhist religious fields. Throughout, we focus primarily on the period following an assessment of the subfield made by David Gellner in 1990. Finally, we stress the importance and highlight the promise of a comparative anthropology of Buddhism that builds on a critical, reflexive examination of its central concepts.