The Irish Buddhist: the Forgotten Monk who Faced Down the British Empire
Alicia Turner, Laurence Cox and Brian Bocking. Oxford University Press.
Ebook now out: March 31st 2020; hardcopy: April 20th 2020 (available for preorder)
The Irish Buddhist tells the story of U Dhammaloka, an extraordinary Irish emigrant, sailor, and hobo who became one of the first Western Buddhist monks and an anti-colonial activist in early twentieth-century Asia. Born in Dublin in the 1850s, Dhammaloka energetically challenged the values and power of the British Empire and scandalized the colonial establishment of the 1900s. He rallied Buddhists a dozen countries across Asia, set up schools, published on a grand scale, and defeated Christian missionaries—using Western atheist arguments. He was tried for sedition, tracked by police and intelligence services, and died at least twice. His story illuminates the forgotten margins and interstices of imperial power, the “plebeian cosmopolitanisms” of colonial Asia, and the complexities of anti-colonial and religious social movements.
Too often, the story of the pan-Asian Buddhist revival movement and Buddhism’s remaking as a world religion has been told “from above,” highlighting scholarly writers, middle-class reformers, and ecclesiastical hierarchies. By turns fraught, hilarious, pioneering, and improbable, Dhammaloka’s adventures “from below” highlight the changing and contested meanings of religion as a mobilising force in colonial Asia. This story offers a window into many worlds of ethnic minorities and diasporas, transnational networks, poor whites, and social movements. Dhammaloka’s dramatic life rewrites the previously accepted story of how Buddhism became a modern global religion, and provokes us to think about the “lost futures” of Asian decolonisation.
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All the best,
Associate professor of sociology, National University of Ireland Maynooth
Chercheur associé, Fondation maison des sciences de l’homme, Paris