FAITHING THE NATIVE SOIL: Dilemmas and Aspirations of Postcolonial Buddhists and Christians in Sri Lanka by Shanthikumar Hettiarachchi
Abstract: This book critically surveys the history of the Buddhist-Christian presence, its development, ecclesiastical repositioning and the socio-political arrangements within a staunch Buddhist revival in Sri Lanka’s post independence polity. My analysis includes Christian mission theories and strategies mobilised by the churches. These are central, because they were used as a prototype for contact with those outside the churches. The churches deployed such theories to define the ‘other’ in order to expand and determine their self-understanding both theologically and as structured institutions.
Arguably there are social symptoms to indicate that Sinhala Buddhist self-consciousness had lost its collective rôle and identity as a ‘native faith tradition’ in the course of history. Although Sinhala Buddhists are considerably a cohesive religious community, it would be futile as well as detrimental to its own well being to continue with the burdensome anguish of a struggle to revert to the nostalgic, vibrant and active place and identity in society which they enjoyed before the Europeans arrived. On the other hand, the divided Christian witness of the established churches provide a perplexing background for issues, because they themselves are heirs of European heritage of Catholic and Protestant estrangement, and have recently been joined by wealthy Evangelical pastor-led church groups disowned by the ‘mainstream churches’. These echo a potential majority-minority conflict both within and without.
The religious shaping of Buddhism as ‘Sinhala Buddhism’ on ethnic lines and its quasi tribal approach to the country’s minorities have created a puzzling cultural phobia between the majority and the minorities in the nation’s (recent) history. Territoriality, history and politics, social and economic change, religion and culture have all played their part in the country’s predicament aggravated by the thirty year old war fought on many fronts which ended in May 2009, complicating the ethnic and religious strife.
I use postcolonial theory as a socio-cultural tool to develop a critical understanding of how a once colonised polity now led by the majority, reacts and treats ‘others’ rather as historical subjects of a subsequent period in time. I show how it chooses to interpret ‘others’ and thus describe itself more importantly while prescribing ‘others’ as minority voices. My postcolonial enquiry examines the strategies of mission and the study of mission which the churches seem to have adopted in a Buddhist nation. They too seem to treat the majority as ‘other’ in relation to themselves and place themselves, as power blocks at the centre of their world view. Secondarily, postcolonial theory is used in the text to periodise, outline and clarify the post-1948 period in Sri Lanka’s geo-political history.
It is my wish to investigate how the Sinhala Buddhists view themselves as ‘native’, (and thus claiming ethno-religious centrality as a majority), as well as the minority Christian churches, which have inherited European theological and ecclesiastical origins and mindset. Both the majority and the Christian minority have collectively created suspicions towards one another and have obscured the rôles and identities of one another when dealing as religious groups. These issues have poignantly re-emgered as New Evangelical Christian groups have carved out their presence robustly on the same religious landscape of the country. The ethnic and diverse religious manifestations, I assert, have pushed the previously understood nature of majority-minority rôles and identities into a social and political debacle. More crucially, the reactive responses towards churches and in return by the churches towards the majority as per each other’s rôle and identity, have ignited a ‘missiological blowback’ which Christian institutions have to re-view if they wish to be considered a ‘native faith’. Claims to be ‘native’ are yet to be fully owned both by the majority Buddhist and the minority Christian institutions. Hence, these institutions have a serious in-house agenda alongside their natural disposition as interlocutors of peoples’ native faith traditions. The desired ownership needs to be earned by their willingness to serve not only one’s own but also ones in ‘other folds’.
Reconciliation in a post conflict environment is a head on challenge constitutive to all religious traditions as their content is about relationships and ‘otherwardness’, a measurement for integrity and faithfulness. Sri Lanka’s post conflict longing to be a productive people, progressive and pioneering in community development depends on its ability to harness the peace dividends now bestowed upon them. Many look to this respite hopefully, after years of national trauma and incalculable personal loss among all ethnics on the island. Faithing is not planting of one’s beliefs in a given setting with less or no sensitivity, or flashy buildings and erudite preaching alone, rather an incisive option taken on behalf of citizens’ dilemmas and aspirations, because they form the social self and political life of a nation.
Shanthikumar Hettiarachchi, Colombo, Sri Lanka
CHAPTER ONE: THE ISLE OF SRI LANKA, AN HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
Background – Invaded Island.
Buddhist Lanka and its Historiography – Buddhism and Sinhalaness – Bhikkhus and Politics.
A Nation ruled to a National Rule – Monarchy and Colonial Presence – Party Politics of Post-independence – Tamil Ethnic Politics – The Left Wing and its Development.
CHAPTER TWO: THE RECONSTRUCTION OF THE SINHALA BUDDHIST SELFHOOD-TRANSFORMATION OF A COLONY TO A ‘NATIVE POLITY’
Sinhala Buddhist Selfhood – Era of the Common Man – SWRD and the Sinhala Nation.
Sinhala Buddhist Consciousness – the Religio-cultural Majority Identity – the Rise of the Majority and its impact on Minorities – Sharpened Political Ideology.
Protestant Buddhism – an Intellectual Protest – an Awakening within a Revival – a post-independence Buddhist Social Hermeneutic.
The British and the formation of a Sinhala and Tamil Elite – Sinhala Ethnic Majority and majoritarian religious claims – Hindu Tamil Ethnic Minority as a major Religious Minority – Sinhala and Tamil Christian Minorities among Buddhist and Hindu Majorities.
Alienation of Minorities – Tamil Ethnic feelings – Christian standpoint – Muslim position – Burghers and their plight.
CHAPTER THREE: A SURVEY OF THE CHURCHES, THEIR MISSION AND PRAXIS
Catholic position in Vatican II thought and post-conciliar developments.
Lumen Gentium and Ad Gentes – Nostra Aetate – Anonymous Christians – the Latin World and Missiology – Medellin departure – steps soon after Vatican II – the Synod and Evangelii Nuntiandi.
An Asian Response to the pre-synodal views – four views of Paul VI’s position – Catholic Charismatic Renewal and a Missiological strand – Secretariat for Non-Christian Religions – Theologians and Missiology – Eschatological Theorists – Fulfilment Theorists – Alternative Theorists – later Rahner and Teilhard de Chardin – John Paul II and Mission Thinking – Dialogue and Proclamation: Jacques Dupuis and Paul Knitter – Dominus Iesus.
CHAPTER FOUR: CATHOLIC-PROTESTANT MISSIO-THEOLOGICAL AND ECCLESIASTICAL PULL-PUSH PREDICAMENTS
The Protestant position from the Edinburgh Conference (1910) and later developments
Edinburgh 1910 – Edinburgh 2010 – Post Edinburgh 1910 – William Hocking and Hendrik Kraemer – Tambaram 1938 – Hocking-Kraemer debate after Tambaram – Tambaram and its impact on Asia – changes and Theological spill over on Sri Lanka.
Ecumenical trends of the World Council of Churches (WCC, 1948)
WCC’s Pioneering Ecumenism – the WCC and its impact on the local scene – Ecumenists at home and abroad – Ecumenism, Mission and EATWOT – historical reasons and the new outlook – Lausanne’s Struggles – Post Lausanne and moving on – the Nineties Mission Thinking – Sri Lankan Social Missiologists – Methodist attempts – Anglican experiments – Catholic Radicalism – Decolonising Christian Praxis.
CHAPTER FIVE: THE MINORITY CHRISTIAN PRESENCE IN SRILANKA AND ITS PRAXIS
Early traces of Christian presence – Colonial Christianity – Missions and Independence – Colonial Missionary Tasks – Missions and Independence – Praxis viewed by insiders – Pieris and Balasuriya – Aloysius Pieris- Tissa Balasuriya – Other Christian Voices – Christian Institutions and post-independence – Post-colonial Mission thinking.
CHAPTER SIX: THE EVANGELICAL CHRISTIAN PRESENCE, RE-EMERGENCE OF IDENTITY ISSUES OF SINHALA BUDDHISTS AND CHRISTIANS
Christianity, its diversities and the Missionary Quest – Christian Mission and ‘Otherness’ – Evangelicalism and ‘Others’ – Proliferation of Christian Groups and their role.
Consistent Sinhala Buddhist response to three Christian manifestations – a protesting and re-emergence response – a cultural and political response – a Nationalist and a militant response – other later Buddhist Responses – the Bhikkhu Soma factor – JHU (Jathika Hela Urumaya) and Sinhala Bhikkhuism – other Christian responses.
CHAPTER SEVEN: DISPLACEMENT OF ROLES AND IDENTITY ISSUES: CHURCHES MEETING THE CHANGES
From Colony to Polity and its displacement of Majority-Minority positions – Christian mission displaced? Buddhist role (re)claimed? – Churches’ role transformed? Sinhala Buddhist identity re-gained? – Sinhala Buddhist challenge and Christian presence – Mission vis-à-vis mission – Mission recasting, redefined roles and reshaped identities.
CHAPTER EIGHT : AN ‘INTRA-RELIGIOUS ROADMAP’: RE-FRAMING MISSIOLOGY: A CHRISTIAN PRAXIS OF POST-COLONIAL CHURCHES OF A BUDDHIST NATION
Understanding Colonialism and its effects – the Churches and Post-colonial adjustments – Mahasangha and the Churches – Indigenisation of Christian praxis and a return to Buddhism – a – an Intra-religious Roadmap, a self-reflective Missiology.
CHAPTER NINE: SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
Revisiting the arguments – Christian Churches and Their Future, A mission to Mission – impulses from within Churches and in their Praxis – An Ecclesiological Unlearning – a Christological Honesty – a Missiological Imperative – a theology alongside co-religionists.
Shifting roles and shaping identities, a discourse in the making – Global impact on the local – learning Religious behaviour – ‘Dignity of Difference’ and Religious Identities – ‘De-Rooting’ and ‘Re- Routing’.