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ARI Working Paper Series

WPS 184 Ceylonese Buddhism in Colonial Singapore: New Ritual Spaces & Specialists, 1895-1935
Publication Title: Working Paper Series
Publisher: Asia Research Institute; National University of Singapore, Singapore
Series: WPS 184
Publication Date: May/2012
Author/Speaker: Prof BLACKBURN Anne
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Keywords: Buddhism; colonialism; Singapore; Malaya; Sri Lanka; overseas Chinese
Abstract / Description:

This paper provides the first detailed account of the development of Ceylonese Buddhism in colonial-period Singapore. It tracks the development of Buddhist spaces in Singapore oriented towards Pali-language authoritative texts and liturgy, focusing on Ceylonese Buddhism but alert also to the activities of Thai, Burmese, and Chinese Buddhists. In contrast to Burma and Ceylon, British colonies in which Pali-oriented Buddhists were the religious and cultural majority, Sinhalese, Thai, and Burmese Buddhists in Singapore lived as religious minorities vis--vis forms of Chinese Buddhism and other Chinese traditions, as well as Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. For Ceylon's Buddhists, hampered by small numbers and limited capital, establishing stable Buddhist ritual space and obtaining steady access to ritual specialists was a substantial challenge. This challenge could only be met -- and met precariously -- by shifting alliances and collaborations with other Buddhists in Singapore and wider Malaya oriented toward Pali-language texts and ritual, as well as with Chinese Buddhists whose Buddhist heritage owed more to Mahayana Buddhist traditions and Chinese-language Buddhist texts. This paper explores the emergence of crisper sub-regional and ethnic affiliations among Singapore's Buddhists, as well as ways in which the 1920s trend towards monasticization linked Pali-language and Chinese-language Buddhists in Singapore.

Related Cluster: ARI Main, Religion Cluster