Alicia TurnerSaving Buddhism: The Impermanence of Religion in Colonial Burma

University of Hawaii Press, 2014

by Nick Cheeseman on March 13, 2015

Alicia Turner

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In Saving Buddhism: The Impermanence of Religion in Colonial Burma (University of Hawaii Press, 2014), Alicia Turner tells the story of how Burmese Buddhists reimagined their lives, their religious practice and politics in the period of 1890 to 1920, following the fall of Mandalay to the British. Whereas many histories narrate the modern anti-colonial struggle in Burma from the 1920s onwards, Turner shows how in the preceding decades Buddhists were working to navigate, explain and respond to rapidly changing conditions through familiar tropes of Buddhist decline and revival, often for new and innovative purposes, and with unfamiliar consequences. By juxtaposing the dynamic Buddhist concept of sasana with the bureaucratic colonial category of “religion” she explains how projects to bring Buddhist practice into alignment with colonial government failed and how new types of conflict emerged, and with them, new identity politics and interest groups.

“Turner’s book not only contributes to the study of religious transformations in mainland Southeast Asia but makes substantial contributions to larger scholarly conversations on Buddhist modernities and comparative colonialism,” Anne Hansen writes. “It will be required reading for everyone in the growing field of Theravada Studies.” Saving Buddhism also recommends itself to anyone following what is going on in Burma, or Myanmar, today, since the “modes of mobilization and collective belonging” it describes help us to understand how people continue to act in defence of sasana there, and why.

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