NZASR Conference 2018, NZASR Conference 2015

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The Impossibility of a Buddhist State
Ben Schonthal

Last modified: 2015-10-08


A large proportion of the world’s constitutions—perhaps as many as 45%—give special status and/or protection to a single religion. Within many fields of scholarship, it’sbeen common practice to read these special constitutional protections as supportingunambiguously the dominance of the majority religious group. Constitutional clausesthat declare a “state religion” or a “preferred religion”—collectively referred to here asreligious supremacy clauses—have been widely seen as giving institutional and legaladvantages which secure that group’s solidarity and hegemony. This talk reconsidersthis claim through a close analysis of legal and religious history in Sri Lanka. It showshow clauses designed to secure the solidarity and primacy of one religious community—that of Buddhism—have became vehicles for throwing that solidarity and primacy intoquestion.


Religion, Sri Lanka, law, Buddhism, Constitutions