The Mothers of the Righteous Society: Lay Buddhist Women as Agents of the Sinhala Nationalist Imaginary

Nalika Gajaweera

Abstract


Discussions about the gendered experience of Buddhism, especially in the modern period, have often centered on the status of Buddhist women and the changing role of women’s authority and legitimacy vis-a-vis their male counterparts.  Based on fieldwork conducted in Sri Lanka   between 2009-2010, this essay explores some of the conceptual challenges that lay Buddhist women's participation within Buddhist nationalism in Sri Lanka pose to standard liberal conceptions of women's agency and power. Women’s religious giving and charity has played a pivotal role in efforts to sustain a postcolonial Sinhala Buddhist imaginary in Sri Lanka. They derive their power and agency in these nation-building efforts not feminist consciousness within the oppressive patriarchal nationalist project. Instead Sinhala middle-class lay Buddhist women enacted their own privileged place in Sri Lankan society by shoring up culturally prescribed notions of motherhood for the purpose of the elite nationalist aspirations to realize a “righteous society.”


Keywords


Sri Lanka; laywomen; dána; Buddhist nationalism; humanitarianism

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5281/4147502

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