published on April 26, 2017
Buddhist Militarism beyond Texts
The Importance of Ritual during the Sri Lankan Civil War
This article addresses Buddhist militarism by exploring monastic-military ritual interactions during the Sri Lankan civil war, lasting from 1983 to 2009. Much has been written on the importance of Buddhism to Sinhala nationalism, the redefinition of the Buddhist monastic role in response to colonialism and the modernization process, as well as the development of a Buddhist just-war ideology. While these perspectives in various ways emphasize the importance of the Buddhist monastic order in pushing forward a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist agenda, little attention has been paid to the performative aspects of Buddhist militarism. Based on ethnographic data gathered during the Norwegian-facilitated peace talks (2000–2008), this article shows how rituals became crucial in conveying support to the state’s military efforts without compromising religious authority. By looking at Buddhist monastic ritual interaction in military institutions, this paper argues that the acceptance of the use of warfare is less anchored in systematized just-war thinking than the term “Buddhist just-war ideology” seems to suggest. Rather, through an anthropological approach to Buddhism and violence, this article shows that the term “Buddhist implicit militarism” better captures the rationale behind the broad monastic engagement with military institutions beyond minority positions of radical Buddhist militancy during a given “exception” in history. The essay concludes that monastic-military ritual interaction is a social field in which this “implicit militarism” is most clearly articulated.