Accepted Paper:

Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism and anti-Muslim violence in Sri Lanka  


Neil DeVotta (Wake Forest University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper seeks to explain the causes undergirding recent anti-Muslim violence by a Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist group in Sri Lanka and what this may mean in an increasingly Islamophobic world.

Paper long abstract:

The rise in Islamophobia over the past decade has led to anti-Muslim incidents in many parts of the world. Predominantly Buddhist societies such as Burma-Myanmar and Sri Lanka, notwithstanding Buddhism being associated with nonviolence, are among states that have seen the most brazen and deplorable anti-Muslim attacks. The proposed project pertains to Sri Lanka and analyzes Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism with a special focus on an extremist Buddhist organization called the Bodu Bala Sena's (Buddhist Power Force, BBS). Organizations like the BBS, despite having temporarily retreated from their vociferous anti-Muslim agenda following pivotal presidential and parliamentary elections in 2015, tap into Islamophobic narratives to promote anti-Muslim (and also anti-Christian) violence while claiming to be defenders of the predominant Sinhalese Buddhist community. And they increasingly do so by collaborating with groups espousing similar ideology in other countries. At a general level, how does such interaction in a globalized world complicate nationalist projects that typically legitimated and grounded around local grievances? And specifically with regard to Sri Lanka, what are the implications of groups like the BBS for interethnic and interreligious relations in a polyethnic society that is still grappling with the fallout of a nearly three decade long civil war?

Panel P27
Understanding poltical violence in South Asia