About the Book: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.
Book Insight… People water the soil to revive their crops if monsoonal rain fails them. Watering rejuvenates. Faiths, like water on this island-nation have nurtured its people for centuries. People make them relevant for spiritual sustenance and meaningful to their times – Faithing the Native Soil is an exploration into two traditions of Sri Lanka to further examine their roots, where their voice is heard, place claimed, soul searched, identity re-configured.