Buddhism has commonly and widely been conceived as a “religion of peace, tolerance, and compassion.” Nonetheless, a cursory examination of recent history evinces that violence has been justified and carried out by Buddhist actors, perhaps most prominently in the Southeast Asian region, where distinctively Buddhist forms of nationalism have been observed in nations such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand.
This webinar seeks to critically examine the reasons for the rise and endurance of Buddhist nationalism in Southeast Asian nations. It is hoped that with a stronger understanding of these reasons, some of the lessons gleaned can be applied to foster inter-religious peace and harmony in plural societies both across the region and well beyond.
In order to maintain a clear focus on issues of immediate relevance to religiously plural societies, specific attention will be devoted to the following issues:
• What are the specific features and reasons for the rise – or the relative absence – of Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia?
• Which specific scriptural and doctrinal sources do far-right Buddhist monks deploy in their advocacy of Buddhist nationalism and against religious/ethnic others across various Buddhist sects and communities?
• How may we disentangle religious doctrines/issues and identities from related social, political, and economic ones in these contexts?
• Which Buddhist teachings/ideas/doctrines have been effectively employed in curbing sectarian partisanship and fostering inter-religious cooperation?
• And, on the basis of the foregoing considerations, how can religiously plural societies meet the challenge of Buddhist nationalism?
Suwanna Satha-Anand is Invited Professor Emerita in Buddhist and Chinese Ethics at the Philosophy Department, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University. She was Chair of the Philosophy Department, as well as former President of the Philosophy and Religion Society of Thailand. Currently she also serves as Secretary General of the International Federation of Philosophical Societies. Her major publications are in the fields of Buddhist Philosophy, Confucius’s ethics, and Religion and current issues. She is now completing her Suwanna Satha-Anand is Invited Professor Emerita in Buddhist and Chinese Ethics at the Philosophy Department, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University. She was Chair of the Philosophy Department, as well as former President of the Philosophy and Religion Society of Thailand. Currently she also serves as Secretary General of the International Federation of Philosophical Societies. Her major publications are in the fields of Buddhist Philosophy, Confucius’s ethics, and Religion and current issues. She is now completing hSenior Research Fellowship on Buddhist Pluralism under the auspices of the Office of Thailand, Research, Science, and Innovation (TRSI).Her talk for this webinar is titled “Pointing to the Moon: From a Nationalist to a Pluralist Thai Buddhism”.
Peter Lehr is a Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV), University of St Andrews. As a regional expert on the Indo-Pacific, Dr Lehr’s research interest revolves around violent ‘grey area phenomena’ such as terrorism, political violence, and religious violence. His current work focuses on (Theravāda) Buddhist Nationalism and Vigilantism – manifestations of Buddhism that he likes to call ‘Enraged Buddhism’ as opposed to the better-known ‘Engaged Buddhism’ in the shape of Buddhist environmentalism or social activism. A monograph on the topic, titled Militant Buddhism – The Rise of Religious Violence in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2019. A Bahasa Indonesia translation of the book is forthcoming. Dr Lehr’s research philosophy follows Max Weber’s ‘Verstehen’ (‘Understanding’), that is seeing and understanding the meaning of an action from the actors’ perspective – not necessarily to sympathize, but to empathize with the actors and their actual beliefs, cultural values and motivations. In the case of his research on militant Buddhism for example, he stayed at Thai Buddhist temples for extended periods, following a group of ascetic forest monks over several years, to watch, ask and listen. Hence, Dr Lehr’s research output often comes in the shape of a ‘thick description’ according to Clifford Geertz that describes the behaviour of the actors in question along with the context in which they are situated. His talk for this webinar is titled “Buddhism Is Not A Suicidal Utopianism – Exploring the Liminal Spaces Between Non-Violent and Violent Buddhist Extremism in Myanmar”.
Jude Lal Fernando is Assistant Professor in Intercultural Theology and Interreligious Studies at the Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin. He brings praxis-based experience to the academic context in the fields of interreligious studies and international peace studies. His main research interests are religion, peace, and conflict, with a specific focus on the role of interreligious dialogue in peace-building, and ethno-nationalisms and geopolitics, focusing on Sri Lanka in particular, and South Asia more generally. He has authored and edited five books and published many articles on the subject. Some of these have been translated into German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean and Spanish. He has been a member of Tulana, the Centre for Interreligious Dialogue and Research in Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, and has been involved in Buddhist-Hindu-Christian-Muslim dialogue under the mentorship of renowned Asian scholar, Professor Aloysius Pieris.
Two of his latest articles are “Realization of Anattā and Witness to Resurrection: Socio-political Implications for a Dhammadīpa” (2020) and “Framings of Religion, Conflict and Peace: Christianity, Conflict and the Pursuit of Just Peace in Asia” (2021). His talk for this webinar is titled “Dhamma Vs. Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism: Can the Sri Lankan State be Secular and Pluralist?”.