Buddhist Nationalisms in Southeast Asia: Implications for Plural Societies

Rafal K. Stepien's picture
November 24, 2021
Subject Fields: 
Asian History / Studies, Nationalism History / Studies, Race / Ethnic Studies, Religious Studies and Theology, Southeast Asian History / Studies

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

It is my pleasure to announce a webinar titled ‘Buddhist Nationalisms in Southeast Asia: Implications for Plural Societies’. 

This will take place via Zoom on Wednesday 24 November 2021, 4:00-5:30pm (i.e. 16:00-17:30) 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=OA21110813352726). 

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 Buddhist actors, perhaps most prominently in the Southeast Asian region, where distinctively Buddhist forms of nationalism have been observed in nations such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand.


This webinar seeks to critically examine the reasons for the rise and endurance of Buddhist nationalism in Southeast Asian nations. 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 – or the relative absence – of Buddhist nationalism in contexts such as Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka?
  • Which specific scriptural and doctrinal sources do far-right Buddhist monks deploy in their advocacy of Buddhist nationalism and against religious/ethnic others across various Buddhist sects and communities? 
  • How may we disentangle religious doctrines/issues and identities from related social, political, and economic ones in these contexts?
  • Which Buddhist teachings/ideas/doctrines have been effectively employed in curbing sectarian partisanship and fostering inter-religious cooperation?
  • And, on the basis of the foregoing considerations, how can religiously plural societies meet the challenge of Buddhist nationalism?




Professor Suwanna Satha-Anand

Professor Emerita, Invited Professor of Buddhist and Chinese Ethics, Philosophy Department, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand.

Talk title:

“Pointing to the Moon: From a Nationalist to a Pluralist Thai Buddhism”


Dr Peter Lehr 
Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor), Centre for the Study in Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV), School of International Relations, University of St Andrews, Scotland/United Kingdom.

Talk title:

“Buddhism Is Not A Suicidal Utopianism – Exploring the Liminal Spaces Between Non-Violent and Violent Buddhist Extremism in Myanmar”


Dr Jude Lal Fernando 
Assistant Professor in Intercultural Theology and Interreligious Studies & Director of Trinity Centre for Post-Conflict Justice, School of Religion, Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland

 Talk title:

“Dhamma Vs. Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism: Can the Sri Lankan State be Secular and Pluralist?”


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

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