Buddhism’s Plural Pasts: Religious Difference and Indifference in Colonial Burma


The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Research Fellowships in Buddhist Studies


Humanities Department


This project offers a genealogy of Buddhism and religious tolerance in Buddhist Southeast Asia, focusing on colonial Burma. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Buddhist institutions and the colonial state worked to construct increasingly reified concepts of religious identity through mechanisms of laws, built environment and the production of new centralized Buddhist authority focused on a discourse of the preservation of sasana. However, as a strong counterpoint multiple local heterodox Buddhist initiatives flourished, which interpreted Buddhism instead as a mechanism for movement, connection, and interaction that defied and deconstructed boundaries of religious difference and offered space for more pluralistic practices of identity and belonging.