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Rohan Bastin

The current moment, seen by some as an interregnum between societies of discipline and control, is marked by intense forms of religious fanaticism and iconoclasm that are striving to create new forms of the state. This is evident in the militancy and political engagement of Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka, who promote war against Tamil separatists as well as violent resistance to the proselytization identified with global civil society agencies that, due to the war and the 2004 tsunami disaster, have been active in the country. The article looks at this rising Buddhist militancy, which is associated with a political party that is linked to the more famous party known as the JVP. It argues that instead of resisting the formation of the new global civil society, the iconoclasm of this Buddhist political formation is facilitating its establishment.

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Rohan Bastin

Developing Deleuze and Guattari's concepts of territorialization and the apparatus of capture, this article explores the role that Sri Lankan Hindu temples have played in the formation of ethnicity and ethnic conflict. Analyzing three contemporary events, the article introduces ways in which many different Sri Lankans (Sinhalese and Tamil) interpret their country's predicament and seek to resolve or prolong it. The events also reveal how scholarship becomes entangled in ethnic nationalism. I then examine in greater detail a village in which temple construction was a critical feature of identity formation during the creation of Sri Lanka as a colonialist and capitalist bureaucratic space. Through this account, I argue that the formation of polarized ethnicity in Sri Lanka is the product of multiple refractive forces, of which temples are one, and not the end result of a singular colonialist bureaucratic agency.

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Where Are the Minorities?

The Elusiveness of Multiculturalism and Positive Recognition in Sri Lankan History Textbooks

Anne Gaul

This article analyzes the representation of Sri Lanka's communities in history textbooks that are currently in use. Even before the end of the war in 2009, the education system was recognized as an instrument with which the country's divided society could be rebuilt. The issues addressed in this article concern a period in which ambitious educational reforms are being implemented that envision textbooks as a tool for the creation of a new generation of citizens in a postwar society. It reveals that the general lack of recognition of minority communities, and the negative representations of the Tamil community in particular, that appear in these textbooks are not compatible with the proclaimed vision of a multicultural yet integrated society. Instead of fostering social cohesion, these textbooks may deepen ethnic divides and stereotypes, and therefore thwart reconciliation and long-term peace.

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Changes in the Weather

A Sri Lankan Village Case Study

Mariella Marzano

As the impacts of climate change are expected to increase, there is growing concern in development contexts over how best to assist the poor and vulnerable to adapt to such changes whilst ensuring environmental and livelihood security. Climate variability is a persistent and progressively more worrying feature in the everyday lives of individuals and communities in rural areas around the world and there is a pressing need for comprehensive knowledge of the complex relationships between humans, and between them and their environment. Thus there is a growing movement towards bridging the gap between top-down decision-making and more grassroots approaches that encompass local knowledge and experiences. Drawing upon fieldwork in Sri Lanka, this article examines the potential of taking an indigenous knowledge research (IKR) approach to understanding local adaptation to climate change, specifically how local people are adapting their livelihood strategies to what they perceive to be increasing variability in weather patterns. It also explores the prospect of indigenous knowledge networks as vehicles for rapidly sharing information and building links between policy making and local reality.

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Dismissive Diaries, Desiccated Journeys, and Reductive Fictions

Sri Lanka in the Writings of Donald Friend, Shiva Naipaul, and Julian West

S. Walter Perera

Sri Lanka remains a popular site for international travelers despite its recent political instability. In examining texts based on sojourns spent in Sri Lanka by Donald Friend, Shiva Naipaul, and Julian West, this article argues that, though supposedly more informed about the island than their predecessors, these visitors from the latter half of the twentieth century eschew enlightened approaches in their writing for those that continue to exoticize, demonize, or stereotype the island's people, culture, environment, and politics. That their backgrounds and countries of origin are dissimilar makes little difference in their attitudes. The narrative strategies that they employ, which are often calculated to attract a certain kind of Western reader, irretrievably enervate their works and render futile the hopes expressed by recent postcolonial critics: that contemporary writing based on travel could lead to greater intercultural understanding between travelers and the local inhabitants that they encounter on their journeys.

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Arjun Guneratne

This paper examines the emergence in Sri Lanka of transcultural thinking about environmental issues as well as the activism it engenders by examining the role of the Anglophone Sri Lankan elite as the chief protagonists historically of environmentalism in the country. It also examines one of Sri Lanka's leading NGOs, Environmental Foundation Ltd. (EFL) as an example of the activism of this class. EFL's perspective on environmental issues has its origins in the transformations wrought by colonialism in the country's class structure and in the introduction of European ideas of nature to the country's newly emergent middle-class. Modelled on the Natural Resources Defense Council of the United States, EFL was a new kind of environmental organization in Sri Lanka and a response to globalization and Sri Lanka's increasing integration into the global economy. Unlike the handful of environmental NGOS that existed in the late seventies, which were essentially pressure groups, EFL was conceived, on the model of NRDC, as a public interest law firm, and drew on international models to frame its arguments about the application of the law in the cause of environmental protection. This paper examines how these various factors—the social class of the activists and the processes of institution building—shaped a cosmopolitan environmental discourse in Sri Lanka whose roots lie in urban Sri Lankan middle class culture as it emerged and was transformed during colonial rule and in the various discourses of globalization that have been drawn on by Sri Lankan activists to craft their own arguments.

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Rohan Bastin

This essay examines the importance of sorcery in the dynamics of religious innovation in contemporary Hindu and Buddhist Sri Lanka.1 My interest stems from two observations. First, in almost stark contrast to other Hindu ritual forms that emphasise unchanging text-based rites, the sorcery practices I describe display an almost modernist preoccupation with innovation. Second, much of this innovation originates, or is seen to originate, from outside the cosmic order both of the pantheon and of society. Consequently, sorcery practices manifest a dynamism that often results in the appearance of sorcery having sprung up from nowhere or of being on the sharp increase. However, such an appearance of growth is less of an increase by degree than a shift in visibility. Moreover, it is a characteristic Sri Lankan sorcery practices share with practices elsewhere. When social scientists whose gaze has been primed for spotting anomalies light upon these shifts in visibility, the reaction is usually one of alarm. Scholars whose basic orientation is to the problem of social order and stability tend to judge these apparent aberrations in terms of social breakdown and anomie. Instead of considering what sorcery reveals anthropologically, they instead analyse sorcery as a symptom of a social pathology. The restless dynamism of sorcery and its role in religious innovation remain unaddressed, and this contributes to a conservative view of both the phenomenon of sorcery and the study of religion in general.

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Navigating Unpredictable Sites

Methodological Implications of Positioning during and after Fieldwork in Conflict Societies

Eva Gerharz

This article discusses the relationship between the researcher and a field affected by armed conflict. Based on ethnographic research in Sri Lanka during the ceasefire of 2002, it investigates how deep polarization that emerges in the course of a violent conflict determines the researcher’s scope for positioning vis-à-vis the different groups. The article argues that the unpredictibility of the research site necessitates careful navigation of the self and requires thorough reflection on the consequences of particular moves at the point of decision making. In order to maintain relationships with different sides, there is a need to deal carefully with sensitive issues, both during and after fieldwork. This article pleas for a balance between pragmatism and ethics.

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A new morning?

Reoccupying home in the aftermath of violence in Sri Lanka

Sharika Thiranagama

Charting the life course of Malathi, a young Sri Lankan Tamil woman, this article attempts to discuss the ways in which people and places in Sri Lanka are remade through experiences of violence. The article suggests moving away from a notion of 'home' as fixed on one place; instead, it considers the movement of people between different places. Further, it suggests that senses of home are also embedded within uneasy, constantly negotiated relationships with those people with whom we feel at home. Moreover, the article argues that ideas about 'the future' as equally as 'the past' inform the possibility of being at home.

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Buddhism, the Asokan Persona, and the Galactic Polity

Rethinking Sri Lanka's Constitutional Present

Roshan de Silva Wijeyeratne

Sri Lanka's civil war between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamil communities has now raged for nearly half a century. The Sri Lankan cum Sinhalese Buddhist state has since independence resisted all significant attempts by the Tamil political leadership at power sharing. Most constitutional lawyers and progressive Sri Lankan opinion (Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, etc.) hold that short of a separate state, administrative power should be devolved in the form of a federal state, so as to give autonomy to the northeast of Sri Lanka, while the forces of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism have sought to justify the centralized state by recourse to the history of Buddhism and the Sinhalese on the island. Such arguments have drawn on the ontological potential of the cosmic order of Sinhalese Buddhism, which is fundamentally hierarchical in intent. Here I argue that the diffused nature of this cosmic order provides the ontological grounding for a decentralized state structure that can accommodate ethnic difference in a non-hierarchical relation. Thus, the legacy of Sinhalese Buddhism can be rescued from the forces of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism.