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Nation, Constitutionalism and Buddhism in Sri Lanka

By Roshan de Silva Wijeyeratne

Routledge – 2013 – 256 pages

Series: Routledge Contemporary South Asia Series

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    July 31st 2013


Nation, Constitutionalism and Buddhism in Sri Lanka offers a new perspective on contemporary debates about Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism in Sri Lanka. In this book de Silva Wijeyeratne argues forcefully that ‘Sinhalese Buddhism’ in the period prior to its engagement with the British colonial State signified a relatively unbounded (although at times boundary forming) set of practices that facilitated both the inclusion and exclusion of non-‘Buddhist’ concepts and people within a particular cosmological frame. Juxtaposing the premodern against the backdrop of colonial modernity, de Silva Wijeyeratne tells us that in contrast modern 'Sinhalese Buddhism/nationalism' is a much more reified and bounded concept, one imagined through a 19th century epistemology whose purpose was not so much inclusion, but a much more radical exclusion of non-‘Buddhist’ ideas and people.

In this insightful analysis modern Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism, then, emerges through the conjunction of discourse, power and knowledge at a distinct moment in the trajectory of the colonial State. An intrinsic feature of this modernist moment is that premodern categories (such as the cosmic order) were subject to a bureaucratic re-valuation that generated profound consequences for State-society relations and the wider constitutional/legal imaginary. This book goes onto explore how key constitutional and nation-building moments were framed within the cultural milieu of modern Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism – a nationalism that reveals the power of a re-valued Buddhist cosmic order to still inform the present.

Given the intensification of the Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist project following the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in 2009, this book is of interest to scholars of nationalism, South Asian studies, the anthropology of ritual, and comparative legal history.


'This important study convincingly demonstrates how the nationalist nightmare in Sri Lanka relies on exclusion of non-Buddhist ideas to underpin the eradication/expulsion of non-Buddhists from this idyllic island. While this suggests blame for Buddhism, ‘religion’ or ‘tradition’, an equally strong finding is that state-centric abuses of power continue to occur with impunity.'

Werner Menski, SOAS, University of London, UK

'Roshan de Silva Wijeyeratne weaves an innovative argument on the nexus between community and nation in late colonial and post colonial Sri Lanka where the incorporation of communities through reassertion and restoration of state power overrides exclusionary urges. This lucid and critical account of the way Buddhism and politics are interlaced in contemporary Sri Lanka will be invaluable for scholars and students from a variety of disciplines'

Nira Wickramasinghe, Leiden University, the Netherlands


Introduction: Sri Lankan Nationalism and the Presence of the Past: Towards a Hermeneutic Perspective 1. The Mahāvamsa as History and The Pre-History of State Formation 2. The Cosmology of Buddhism, the Pāli Chronicles and the Ontology of Evil 3. Textual Practices, Sinhalese Buddhist Consciousness and Dissonance 4. Galactic Polities, Cosmography and the Imaginary of Buddhist Sovereignty 5. The Transformation of Sinhalese Buddhist Consciousness in Its Colonial and Postcolonial Relation 6. Independence, Land, Citizenship and the Cosmic Order 7. Sinhalese Revolutionaries, Linguistic Nationalism and Buddhism Reimagined 8. Cosmology, Constitutionalism and the Tamil as Other 9. Centralization, Decentralization and the Cosmology of Buddhism 10. Conclusion: Rethinking Community in Sri Lanka

Author Bio

Roshan de Silva Wijeyeratne is Lecturer in Law at Griffith Law School, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia. He graduated from the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London) and completed his doctorate at the University of Kent (U.K). He teaches courses in Native Title, Law and Culture, the Legal History of Asia and the Middle East, and Property Law.

Name: Nation, Constitutionalism and Buddhism in Sri Lanka (Hardback)Routledge 
Description: By Roshan de Silva Wijeyeratne. Nation, Constitutionalism and Buddhism in Sri Lanka offers a new perspective on contemporary debates about Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism in Sri Lanka. In this book de Silva Wijeyeratne argues forcefully that ‘Sinhalese Buddhism’ in...
Categories: Asian Politics, Asian Religion, Asian Culture & Society, Buddhism, Japan & Asia, Asian Law, South Asian Studies, Asian Studies, South Asian Politics