Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Effects of Evangelical Christianity on State Formation in Sri Lanka
by Fernando, Wiroshana Nuwanpriya Oshan, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara, 2011, 362; 3481969
Abstract (Summary)

This study considers the challenge evangelical Christianity poses to state formation in postcolonial Sri Lanka. Over the past decade, several emerging political parties have criticized evangelical Christians of engaging in "unethical" proselytic practices, and representing a form of "Western" modernity that is incompatible with local cultural formations. Such criticism has also been part of their own political self fashioning, as they have also accused ruling elites of failing in their responsibility to reconstitute a postcolonial social order shaped by a Sinhala Buddhist worldview, one representative of the ethno-religious majority. Evangelical Christianity's growth, particularly in Sri Lanka's rural landscape, was construed as symptomatic of such failures. This study considered the role played by two evangelical Christian groups in rural Sri Lanka in these broader contestations; an Assembly of God church, and World Vision International, a faith-based global organization that is evangelical in outlook. Through participant observation, interviews and life-history narratives conducted over a period of 15-months, this study argues that evangelical Christianity produces "state-like" effects that impinge upon the ways through which people conceptualize the 'state.' As such, this study advances recent anthropological work that has considered the 'state' as a cultural product that is produced through a range of everyday discourses and practices. This study also considers the effects of evangelical Christianity on political practice. In contrast to experiences in certain other cultural contexts, this study suggests that due to the relative numerical minority of its followers, evangelical Christianity's political implications in Sri Lanka do not necessarily lie in its capacity for political mobilization. Instead, its impact emerges in its potential to catalyze broader contestations relating to the discursive construction of the post-colonial state. An analysis of these contestations revealed the new ways in which meanings of 'secularism' and 'religiosity' have been reconfigured in the context of global flows.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Hancock, Mary
Commitee: Mines, Mattison, Yang, Mayfair
School: University of California, Santa Barbara
Department: Anthropology
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 73/03, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religion, Cultural anthropology, South Asian Studies
Keywords: Buddhism, Evangelical christianity, Politics, South asia, Sri lanka, State formation
Publication Number: 3481969
ISBN: 978-1-267-01988-2
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