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Buddhism, the Asokan Persona, and the Galactic Polity: Rethinking Sri Lanka's Constitutional Present

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Abstract:

Sri Lanka's civil war between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamil communities has now raged for nearly half a century. The Sri Lankan cum Sinhalese Buddhist state has since independence resisted all significant attempts by the Tamil political leadership at power sharing. Most constitutional lawyers and progressive Sri Lankan opinion (Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, etc.) hold that short of a separate state, administrative power should be devolved in the form of a federal state, so as to give autonomy to the northeast of Sri Lanka, while the forces of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism have sought to justify the centralized state by recourse to the history of Buddhism and the Sinhalese on the island. Such arguments have drawn on the ontological potential of the cosmic order of Sinhalese Buddhism, which is fundamentally hierarchical in intent. Here I argue that the diffused nature of this cosmic order provides the ontological grounding for a decentralized state structure that can accommodate ethnic difference in a non-hierarchical relation. Thus, the legacy of Sinhalese Buddhism can be rescued from the forces of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism.

Keywords: DECENTRALIZATION; DHAMMA; GALACTIC POLITY; KINGSHIP; ONTOLOGICAL GROUNDING; PILLAR EDICTS; SANGHA; UNITARY STATE

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3167/sa.2007.510111

Publication date: March 1, 2007

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  • Social Analysis has long been at the forefront of anthropology's engagement with the humanities and other social sciences. In forming a critical, concerned, and empirical perspective, it encourages contributions that break away from the disciplinary bounds of anthropology and suggest innovative ways of challenging hegemonic paradigms through 'grounded theory', analysis based in original empirical research. The journal invites contributions directed toward a critical and theoretical understanding of cultural, political, and social processes, as well as the work of active ethnographic researchers who study the forces involved in the production of human suffering, poverty, prejudice, war, and violence.
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