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.
Capture and Excess
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.
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.
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.
War and disaster in a Buddhist Sinhala village
The 2004 tsunami caused by a 9.3-magnitude earthquake off the northwestern coast of Sumatra struck the coastal areas of multiple countries ringing the Bay of Bengal only a few hours later. In Sri Lanka, initial reports estimated 37,000 to 39
Recognition and Citizenship among Disabled Veterans of the Sri Lankan Army
Matti Weisdorf and Birgitte Refslund Sørensen
In the summer of 2009, the Sri Lanka Armed Forces (SLA) defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and shot dead its leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, in a major military operation to finally halt the armed conflict that had held the
Methodological Implications of Positioning during and after Fieldwork in Conflict Societies
ethnographic experience in Sri Lanka, I will describe the dilemmas with which a researcher is confronted and the specific methodological and ethical challenges that are entailed. Looking at the options for researchers to position themselves vis-à-vis the
Sadaqah, social enterprise, and the polytemporalities of development gifts
Tom Widger and Filippo Osella
In this article, we explore what happens when idea(l)s of Islamic charity (sadaqah) and social enterprise converge within a low-cost public health clinic in Colombo, Sri Lanka. For both the clinic’s wealthy sponsors and the urban poor who use it, interpreting the intervention as a pious expression of care toward the poor or as a for-profit humanitarian venture meant extending different futures to the poor. The ambiguous temporalities of gifts and commodities anticipated by benefactors and beneficiaries involved in this challenges anthropological assumptions concerning the marketizing effects of neoliberal development interventions. Our ethnography revealed a hesitancy among the clinic’s sponsors, managers, and users to endow the intervention with a final interpretation, undermining its stated goal of promoting health care privatization and “responsibilization” of the poor.
The Elusiveness of Multiculturalism and Positive Recognition in Sri Lankan History Textbooks
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.
Sacrifice, Anti-sacrifice, and the Rearticulations of Conflict in Sri Lanka
When 25 years of civil war in Sri Lanka drew to a close in 2009, Sinhala Buddhists often asserted that a new era had been ushered in. The blood of ethnic violence could now be washed away, clearing the terrain for peace in the island nation. In