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Memory, Experience and the Clash of Cosmologies: The Encounter between British Protestant Missionaries and Buddhism in Nineteenth Century Sri Lanka

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This paper examines the encounter between Protestant missionaries and Buddhists in nineteenth century Sri Lanka as a case study that illustrates the importance of situating twentieth century postcolonial inter-faith tensions against their nineteenth century precedents. The central question within this encounter concerns how Buddhists and Christians in nineteenth century Sri Lanka could reach a point where mutual demonization was deemed acceptable and appropriate. This paper argues that the key to this lies in a clash of cosmologies, codes of conduct and affective frameworks, informed by memory and experience, within the power relationships of imperialism. Using these categories, the paper examines what Buddhists and Protestant missionaries brought to their encounter with each other and then surveys the contours of the encounter throughout the century. It concludes that the Protestant missionaries enlivened within Buddhism, rather than created, a competitive paradigm of inter-religious relationships that continued into the postcolonial period. Résumé L’article analyse la rencontre entre missionnaires protestants et Bouddhistes au dix-neuvième siècle au Sri Lanka, une étude de cas qui souligne la nécessité de resituer les tensions interreligieuses du vingtième siècle par rapport à leurs précédents du dix-neuvième siècle. La question centrale concernant cette rencontre est de comprendre comment les Bouddhistes et les Chrétiens au Sri Lanka du dix-neuvième siècle ont pu en arriver à considérer comme acceptable et opportune leur diabolisation réciproque. Cet article défend l’idée que l’explication doit être trouvée dans la confrontation des cosmologies, des codes de conduite et des cadres affectifs (informés par la mémoire et l’expérience) qui s’est instaurée dans le cadre des rapports de force de l’impérialisme. En recourant à ces catégories, l’article étudie ce que les Bouddhistes et les missionnaires protestants ont investi dans leur rencontre mutuelle, avant d’examiner les contours de cette rencontre tout au long du siècle. Il conclut que les missionnaires protestants ont avivé (plutôt que créé) au sein du Bouddhisme un paradigme de compétition interreligieuse qui a perduré durant la période postcoloniale.


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Affiliations: 1: Liverpool Hope University, UK


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