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Defending Buddhism by Fighting Federalism; Ethnoreligious Nationalism of the Sinhala Sangha and Peacemaking in Sri Lanka: 1995-2010

Raghavan, Suren (2013) Defending Buddhism by Fighting Federalism; Ethnoreligious Nationalism of the Sinhala Sangha and Peacemaking in Sri Lanka: 1995-2010. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86468) (KAR id:86468)

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The ethnic conflict between the Tamil minority and the state of Sri Lanka turned into one of the bloodiest and protracted civil wars in the modern history of South Asia. In its final stage from 1995 to 2009, the war went through a textbook cycle from ceasefire to peace talks, to

the resumption of war, and to final military victory for the state. During this period, many observers including governments and international organizations promoted federalism as a possible solution to the conflict. However, the fede ral proposal for Lanka was not only defeated but also provoked violent resistance led by the highly influential Buddhist monks the Sangha. Federalism not only failed as an instrument of peace; the very proposal led to more violence and the intensification of the conflict. This thesis is an inquiry into the question of how federalism became the reason for violent resistance promoted by the SaiIgha, who are expected to adhere to ahimsa, nonaggression and the non-violent, renouncer path of life. The research adopted a case study method in order to reconstruct the life history and mindsets of three Sangha activists, who changed the manner in which federalism was received as an idea in Lanka. By analyzing the history of the resistance poli tics of the Sinhala Sangha, this research found that Sangha resistance is not merely a colonial byproduct or post-colonial innovation but rather a direct expression of the Sinhala 'cosmion', i.e. of a world of meaning in which Sinhala society appears as an analogue of the Buddhist

cosmic order. Within th is cosmion. the Sangha playa crucial role as the mediators between the cosmic order and its earthly manifestation. Peacebuilding projects and federal proposals advanced by Western actors and their local supporters failed to appreciate this historical

Sinhala self-understanding, because their Western frameworks considered federalism as an 'export-ready' political template while the religious actors in Lanka featured as mere 'spoilers' in the inevitable process of modernization. In conclusion, we argue that future peacebuilding in Lanka should consider two approaches. On the one hand, recognize and appreciate the cultural role played by key forces in Lankan society and, on the other, work with the self-understanding of these forces in order to help them transcend the singular uniqueness of the position, which they think they occupy in the world of Buddhism and beyond.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86468
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 09 February 2021 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: Sinhala Sangha; Sri Lanka
Subjects: J Political Science > JQ Political institutions and public administrations (Asia, Africa, Australia, Pacific Area, etc.)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 30 Oct 2019 13:53 UTC
Last Modified: 21 Sep 2021 13:31 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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