Colors of the Robe: Religion, Identity, and Difference

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Poised to spark debate among scholars of religious studies and other disciplines, Colors of the Robe sheds new light on the Sri Lankan Buddhist universe of ethics and politics and, more important, suggests innovative directions for the global study of religion, identity, culture, politics, and violence. In a volume that surpasses other studies in tracking, identifying, and locating Sri Lankan Buddhism in its sectarian, ethnic, cultural, social, and political constructions, Ananda Abeysekara lays down a challenge ...
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Overview

Poised to spark debate among scholars of religious studies and other disciplines, Colors of the Robe sheds new light on the Sri Lankan Buddhist universe of ethics and politics and, more important, suggests innovative directions for the global study of religion, identity, culture, politics, and violence. In a volume that surpasses other studies in tracking, identifying, and locating Sri Lankan Buddhism in its sectarian, ethnic, cultural, social, and political constructions, Ananda Abeysekara lays down a challenge to postcolonial and postmodern theory. He argues that although criticisms have undermined the orientalist constructions of culture, they cannot help us understand, let alone theorize, the emergence of contemporary authoritative discourses that define distinctions involving religion and violence, identity and difference. Supplanting that aim, Abeysekara illuminates the shifting configurations that characterize the relations connected with postcolonial religious identity and culture.

Drawing on extensive field research in Sri Lanka, Abeysekara illustrates how differing meanings of such religious and national concepts come into central view and then fade, denying them fixity. Proposing an alternative, he develops the concept of "minute conjunctures of contingency" and places it in modest opposition to the work of Michel Foucault and other leading postmodern thinkers.

Abeysekara attends to these minute conjunctures of contingency to understand such categories as religion and difference, Buddhism and politics, civilization and terror. He thereby resists today's antiessentialist arguments without falling back on yesterday's foundationalist claims. Viewing religion through this lens, Abeysekara contends, has profound political implications for how we might more generally think about and begin to disrupt entrenched presumptions of postcolonial cultural difference.

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What People Are Saying

Charles Hallisey
The subject matter of Colors of the Robe is fascinating and the analysis is an important addition to scholarship on modern Sri Lankan Buddhism, but Ananda Abeysekara’s greatest contribution is theoretical, both for the study of cultural life in general and the study of religion in particular. The angle of vision in the book brings us to the ‘coal-face’ of knowledge with ramifications that will take some time for the rest of us to explore and develop.
David Scott
David Scott, Columbia University
Ananda Abeysekara’s Colors of the Robe is a subtle and critical inquiry into the agonistic space of discourse about Buddhism and politics in Sri Lanka. A fascinating work of multi-registered sophistication, it challenges the ready-to-hand assumptions that guide much of the contemporary study of religion, culture, and violence in the postcolonial world. Colors of the Robe unsettles and provokes, and will help to alter the terms of the historical study of postcolonial difference.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781570034671
  • Publisher: University of South Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2002
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 271
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 8.96 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Table of Contents

Series Editor's Preface
Acknowledgments
Ch. 1 Limits of Disciplinary Claims on Religion and Culture 1
Ch. 2 Shifting Configurations of Religious Identity and Difference 30
Ch. 3 Formations of Religion and Politics 67
Ch. 4 A New Economy of Religious Identity 109
Ch. 5 Religion, Nation, and Rulers 143
Ch. 6 Tradition and Difference 174
Ch. 7 Violence and Religion, Terror(ism) and Identity 201
Bibliography 241
Index 257
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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2003

    An Important Contribution

    Dr. Abeysekara's book is, at times, a difficult read. But the reader's patience is amply rewarded by the subtle though crucial (and actually quite interesting) theoretical point that he makes. By the second chapter, I found myself not only convinced but fascinated by the cases that he uses to illustrate his argument. On the issue of 'Buddhist Identity' this book is an important corrective to many of the other works currently being published on the current situation in Sri Lanka. Any future study of this issue will have to first contend with the arguments of this book. A fascinating read!

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