Workshop: Social Upheaval and Religious Innovation

Grants and Contracts Details


This is a proposal to gather 15 anthropologists, local and foreign, at the campus of the Open University in Colombo, Sri Lanka for an ethnographic workshop. The purpose of the workshop is to ask why marginal religious practices and institutions in Sri Lanka and associated diaspora have achieved a new prominence since the end of its inter-ethnic civil war in 2009. By 'marginal' here is meant not only religious practices associated with so-called 'New Religious Movements', but also developments starting on the margins of previously accepted religions and institutions that are, nonetheless, so innovative (or new) as to be beyond previously recognized practice. Since Sri Lanka is, at once, both religiously and ethnically plural, with a well-researched history of religiously inflected ethnic differentiation and violent nationalism, the scholars selected for this workshop study such developments in all of Sri Lanka's major, officially (if unequally) recognized 'world' religions -- Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity -- as well as many associated 'New Religious Movements' and institutions that have sprung to prominence amidst and outside them. It is the argument (and hypothesis) of this workshop that these associated developments in 'marginal religiosity', whether occurring within officially recognized religions or in New Religious Movements, by lying just outside pre-war conventional practical and institutional forms of Sri Lankan religion, and thus at a somewhat oblique angle to public scrutiny (or, at least, understanding), are allowing Sri Lankan people who feel in need of dealing innovatively with the complex pressures and alterations of the post-conflict world new locations and tools to do so -- though not, of course, without arousing contestation and reversal. The practical aim of this workshop is to arrive at some useful empirical and theoretical judgments about such 'marginal' religious innovations that can be summarized in a journal article. Beyond this, the workshop will provide a staging ground for future collaborative research, and a forum for conversation between American, European and Sri Lankan scholars.
Effective start/end date5/1/1710/31/18


  • National Science Foundation: $35,345.00


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