The protests in response to the devastating military coup in Myanmar in February of this year demonstrated an inspiring aspect of racial, ethnic and religious pluralism and solidarity. In contrast to the events of the previous five years, in which Myanmar seemed increasingly polarized by anti-Muslim sentiment and violence against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities, the images in protest signs, internet campaigns and marches demonstrated Buddhist-Muslim-Christian-Hindu collaboration and young people denounced their previous nationalist stances asking Muslims and ethnic minority people for forgiveness. Watching it unfold was seeing a new visions of Myanmar society be enacted in the streets. But to an historian, this had some very old resonances as well. In 1911, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus shut down the city of Rangoon together, marching from Chinatown, through the Indian bazaars to the courthouse to show their solidarity with an Irish Buddhist monk accused of sedition against the British colonial government. Both movements revealed a series of networks and alliances that defied the divisions that the contemporary public commentary believed defined their society.
In this talk I will discuss the need to engage in creative modes of research necessary to explore the long standing sets of connections that prove indifferent to rhetoric of racial, ethnic and religious divisions. I want to explore the challenges of such research, given the ways in which our training as scholar orients toward compartmentalisations (through limitations of languages and archives) that those we study did not necessarily respect.
Alicia Turner is Associate Professor of Humanities and Religious Studies at York University in Toronto. She is interested in the intersections of religion, colonialism, secularism and nationalism in Southeast Asia, with a particular focus on Buddhism in Burma (Myanmar) over the past 150 years. She is the author of Saving Buddhism: The Impermanence of Religion in Colonial Burma (Hawai’i 2014) and co-author of The Irish Buddhist (OUP 2020) with Laurence Cox and Brian Bocking. She is currently finishing a book on the genealogy of religious difference and conflict in Burma Myanmar.
Marieke Bloembergen, cultural historian and senior researcher at KITLV, and professor in Archival and Postcolonial Studies at Leiden University’s Colonial and Global History Department.
3.30 – 5.00 PM Leiden, The Netherlands.
Live stream on Facebook
This webinar will be streamed on the public KITLV Facebook page.
Protesting woman – Creative Commons image, Twitter.
Monk Dhammaloka in Rangoon in late 1901, likely Philip A. Klier, for Harper’s Magazine – Color image © Rosemary Taylor, 2010, Inchigeelagh, Cork.