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Colors of the Robe: Religion, Identity, and Difference

Abeysekara, Ananda

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A new approach to the study of cultural life in general and religion in particular; 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, contextualizing, and interpreting Sri Lankan Buddhism in its sectarian, ethnic, cultural, social, and political dimensions, 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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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.

From the Inside Flap:

"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 multiregistered sophistication, it challenges the ready-to-hand assumptions that guide much of the contemporary study of religion, culture, and violence in the postcolonial world."--David Scott, Columbia University

"This book is a rewarding study of the manifold ways in which monastic identities, as well as Buddhism and Buddhist identities, have unfolded in late twentieth-century Sri Lanka."--Journal of Religion

"This work will be a catalyst for further analysis and debate for some time to come."--Choice

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