Narratives of Siege: Understanding Buddhist/Muslim Conflicts in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand

Public lecture by John Holt, Visiting Professor of Buddhism.

Why have Buddhist and Muslim communities in these three countries, after sharing centuries of largely amicable relations, found themselves recently enmeshed in conditions of inter-communal tension, tensions that have sporadically erupted into armed conflict, in some cases including large-scale state-supported violence against minority Muslim communities? There many socio-economic, political and religious factors that have exacerbated inter-communal relations in the recent past. Notwithstanding a consideration of these various compelling factors, how each of the six respective communities in these three countries understands their contemporary predicaments through narratives of siege is the focus of this lecture.

Professor Holt is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor Emeritus of the Humanities in Religion and Asian Studies at Bowdoin College, where he has taught since 1978. His teaching focuses Asian religious traditions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism, and theoretical approaches to the study of religion. In 1982, he organized and founded the Inter-collegiate Sri Lanka Education (ISLE) Program for a consortium of private liberal arts colleges, and in 1986 he became the first chair of Bowdoin’s Asian Studies Program. Holt spent three separate terms as the Visiting Professor of History and Comparative Religion at Sri Lanka’s University of Peradeniya. He was awarded a Doctor of Letters from the same institution for his contributions to Sri Lankan and Buddhist studies. He was selected as the Alumnus of the Year by the University of Chicago Divinity School in 2007, and has received numerous research awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2014.

His publications include Discipline: the Canonical Buddhism of the Vinayapitaka (Dehli: Motilal Banarsidass, 1981), A Guide to the Buddhist Religion (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1981), Buddha in the Crown (NY: Oxford U. Press, 1991), for which he was awarded an American Academic Book Award for Excellence in 1992; and The Buddhist Visnu (NY: Columbia University Press, 2005), a groundbreaking study analyzing the assimilation and transformation of the Hindu cult of Visnu by the Sinhala Buddhists of Sri Lanka.

Dates: 
Monday, February 17, 2020 - 4:30pm
Swift Common Room