Buddhist Nationalism in Myanmar & Sri Lanka: Rhetoric, Responses, Challenges

Rafal K. Stepien's picture

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

It is my pleasure to announce a webinar titled ‘Buddhist Nationalism in Myanmar & Sri Lanka: Rhetoric, Responses, Challenges’. 

This will take place via Zoom on Monday 30 January 2023, 8:00-9:30pm (i.e. 20:00-21:30) Singapore-time (UTC+8). All are welcome, but prior registration is required at this site (https://wis.ntu.edu.sg/webexe88/owa/REGISTER_NTU.REGISTER?EVENT_ID=OA22102112582990).

The webinar is being held as part of a research project titled ‘Singapore and Buddhist Nationalisms: Interreligious Peace and Conflict in Southeast Asia’ funded by the Singaporean Ministry of Home Affairs of which I am Principal Investigator. 



Buddhism has commonly and widely been conceived as a “religion of peace, tolerance, and compassion.” Nonetheless, a cursory examination of recent history evinces that violence has been justified and carried out by actors who employed Buddhist ideas to legitimise their actions, perhaps most prominently in the Southeast Asian region, where distinctively Buddhist forms of nationalism have been observed in nations such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand.
This webinar seeks to critically examine the reasons for the rise and endurance of Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. It is hoped that with a stronger understanding of these reasons, some of the lessons gleaned can be applied to foster inter-religious peace and harmony in plural societies both across the region and well beyond.
In order to maintain a clear focus on issues of immediate relevance to religiously plural societies, specific attention will be devoted to the following issues:


  • What are the specific features and reasons for the rise of Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar and Sri Lanka?
  • Which scriptural and doctrinal sources been appropriated by Buddhist nationalist monks in the construction of their exclusivist rhetoric?
  • How have specific social and political circumstances allowed such rhetoric to thrive and/or fade?
  • What are some specific strategies that Burmese and Sinhalese Buddhist nationalists have utilised in spreading their rhetoric? On a related note, how can such discourses be countered effectively?
  • How can religiously plural societies address the challenges that Buddhist nationalism and extremism pose to cultivate inter-religious harmony?
  • How effective have Buddhist nationalist movements in Myanmar and Sri Lanka been in garnering financial, political, and/or emotional support from nationals abroad?




Dr Matthew Walton

Assistant Professor, Comparative Political Theory, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto, Canada.


Dr Elizabeth Harris

Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Department of Theology and Religion, Edward Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom.


Dr Rafal Stepien 
Assistant Professor, Studies in Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies Programme, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.