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Locations of Buddhism

Colonialism and Modernity in Sri Lanka

Modernizing and colonizing forces brought nineteenth-century Sri Lankan Buddhists both challenges and opportunities. How did Buddhists deal with social and economic change; new forms of political, religious, and educational discourse; and Christianity?  And how did Sri Lankan Buddhists, collaborating with other Asian Buddhists, respond to colonial rule? To answer these questions, Anne M. Blackburn focuses on the life of leading monk and educator Hikkaduve Sumangala (1827–1911) to examine more broadly Buddhist life under foreign rule.

In Locations of Buddhism, Blackburn reveals that during Sri Lanka’s crucial decades of deepening colonial control and modernization, there was a surprising stability in the central religious activities of Hikkaduve and the Buddhists among whom he worked. At the same time, they developed new institutions and forms of association, drawing on pre-colonial intellectual heritage as well as colonial-period technologies and discourse. Advocating a new way of studying the impact of colonialism on colonized societies, Blackburn is particularly attuned here to human experience, paying attention to the habits of thought and modes of affiliation that characterized individuals and smaller scale groups. Locations of Buddhism is a wholly original contribution to the study of Sri Lanka and the history of Buddhism more generally.

256 pages | 3 halftones, 1 map | 6 x 9 | © 2010

Buddhism and Modernity

Asian Studies: South Asia

Religion: South and East Asian Religions


“An intricately choreographed dance across two scholarly minefields, Blackburn’s study reveals vigorous Theravada monastic communities in the crucible of colonial Sri Lanka. It is yet another thought-provoking, minutely observed contribution from this wonderful scholar of South Asian histories and religions.”

Indrani Chatterjee, Rutgers University

Locations of Buddhism is an important and much-needed biography of the Sri Lankan monk Hikkaduve Sumangala. In it Anne Blackburn not only explores the interplay between Buddhist monk intellectuals and the colonial establishment during the heyday of British colonialism in the latter half of the nineteenth century but also examines in depth the interconnections of Sri Lankan Buddhism with other Buddhist nations of Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand, Burma, and Cambodia. This is a must-read for students of Buddhism and for those interested in colonialism in this region.”

Gananath Obeyesekere, Princeton University

“This is the best study of Buddhism and colonialism in Sri Lanka to have appeared in more than twenty years. Where earlier studies stressed the innovations and invented traditions produced in response to the colonial encounter, Anne Blackburn finds significant and fascinating continuities with earlier Buddhism, in Sri Lanka and more widely in Southeast Asia, in the life and work of one of the most important and influential monks of the nineteenth century, Hikkaduve Sumangala. Well organized, well written, and deeply humane, this book makes a delightful as well as a very important contribution to what it calls ‘the problem of trying to understand the local social logic and intellectual creativity of lives fashioned in the context of colonialism.’”

Steve Collins, University of Chicago

“This is one of the most significant books written on Buddhism under colonialism for many years. It does not have a parallel. . . . Blackburn’s linguistic ability in Pali and Sinhala, her diligent engagement with the existing scholarship and the quality of her primary research make the book trustworthy and noteworthy. In addition, the message she communicates about the study of religion in colonial Sri Lanka, through her ‘methodological example,’ is an invaluable and necessary contribution to scholarship.”

Journal of the American Academy of Religion

“Elegant, engaging, theoretically perceptive, and rich in historical evidence, Locations of Buddhism is an important new contribution to the rapidly expanding fields of modern Buddhism and colonial religion. . . . [It] reiterates Blackburn’s role as a leading scholar of Theravadin studies, one whose work invents and invites challenging paths for others to follow.”

The Journal of Asian Studies

“A work of considerable scholarship that deserves the dustcover plaudits it receives from several distinguished students of Buddhism in modern times. . . . [Blackburn’s] conclusions with respect to important issues in the historiography of south Asian Buddhism during the colonial era are persuasively articulated, and are perhaps more radical than her quiet, measured style would suggest.”

Contemporary Buddhism

“An impressive piece of research, which can be read both as a biography of a famous monk and as a history of Sir Lankan Buddhism during the colonial period.”

Buddhist Studies Review

 “An engaging read that fills an important niche in the academic study of both Southeast Asia and the broader colonial experience. Not only does it provide the reader with unique insight into the political struggles which ruled the Buddhist institutions of Sri Lanka from the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, but it also provides significant, insightful discussion of the methodological approaches available to such studies.”

Journal of Religion and Culture

 “Locations of Buddhism raises important questions about how we, as scholars, study Buddhism during the colonial period and points toward new vistas and horizons for further research. It is a valuable contribution to the field.”

New Books Network

Table of Contents



A Note on Translations, Sources, Dating, and Language

1. Hikkaduve Sumangala at Adam’s Peak

2. Hikkaduve Sumangala at Vidyodaya Pirivena

3. Learning and Difference

4. Engaging the Adventurers

5. Sasana and Empire

6. Horizons Not Washed Away



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