Cultural Narratives, Colonial Legacies, and Civil Society

Modern Buddhist ConjuncturesFor centuries, Burmese have looked to the authority of their religious tradition, Theravada Buddhism, to negotiate social and political hierarchies. Modern Buddhist Conjunctures in Myanmar: Cultural Narratives, Colonial Legacies, and Civil Society, by Juliane Schober, examines those moments in the modern history of this Southeast Asian country when religion, culture, and politics converge to chart new directions. Arguing against Max Weber’s characterization of Buddhism as other-worldly and divorced from politics, this study shows that Buddhist practice necessitates public validation within an economy of merit in which moral action earns future rewards. The intervention of colonial modernity in traditional Burmese Buddhist worldviews has created conjunctures at which public concerns critical to the nation’s future are reinterpreted in light of a Buddhist paradigm of power.

“Juliane Schober argues that Buddhist conceptions and practices are inevitably tied to conceptions of political power in social, economic, and political realms. In doing so she challenges as obsolete inherited categories of knowledge that define a normative view of Theravada Buddhism as otherworldly, nonpolitical, nonviolent, and ‘protestantized.’ Modern Buddhist Conjunctures in Myanmar is essential reading for an understanding of the genealogies of hegemony and subjugation, patronage and resistance, and power and loss in contemporary Myanmar, and makes an important contribution to our understanding of Buddhism in Southeast Asia.” —Donald Swearer, Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard University

November 2010 / ISBN 978-0-8248-3382-4 / $49.00 (CLOTH)