This paper examines the encounter between Protestant missionaries and Buddhists in nineteenth century Sri Lanka as a case study that illustrates the importance of situating twentieth century postcolonial inter-faith tensions against their nineteenth century precedents. The central question within this encounter concerns how Buddhists and Christians in nineteenth century Sri Lanka could reach a point where mutual demonization was deemed acceptable and appropriate. This paper argues that the key to this lies in a clash of cosmologies, codes of conduct and affective frameworks, informed by memory and experience, within the power relationships of imperialism. Using these categories, the paper examines what Buddhists and Protestant missionaries brought to their encounter with each other and then surveys the contours of the encounter throughout the century. It concludes that the Protestant missionaries enlivened within Buddhism, rather than created, a competitive paradigm of inter-religious relationships that continued into the postcolonial period.
See for instance2004Elizabeth J. Harris “Co-existence Confrontation and Co-responsibility: Looking at Buddhist models of Inter-religious relations” in Swedish Missiological Themes Vol. 92 No. 3: 349-70.
E.J. HarrisTheravāda Buddhism and the British Encounter p. 191.
See for instance“Report on Schools”The FriendVol. II (II) August 1838: 41: “Now heathenism and Christianity are left to grapple with each other in their native strength and no fear can exist relative to the ultimate result”.
T. Squance“Extract of a Letter from Mr Squance to his Sister and Friends, communicated by Mr Dermott, Point de Galle, Island of Ceylon, July 29, 1815”Methodist MagazineVol. XXXIX 1816 pp. 153-5 here p. 1816 quoted in E.J. Harris Theravāda Buddhism and the British Encounter… p. 192.
T. Squance“ Extract of Two Letters from Mr Squance to Mr Woolmer. Point de Galle, Ceylon, Oct. 20, 1815”Methodist MagazineVol. XXXIX 1816 pp. 277-78 here p. 278 quoted in E.J. Harris Theravāda Buddhism and the British Encounter… p. 192.
G. Erskine“From Mr Erskine to the Missionary Committee, Point de Galle, Oct 7, 1816”Methodist MagazineVol. XL 1817. pp. 197-98 here p. 197 quoted in E.J. Harris Theravāda Buddhism and the British Encounter… p. 192.
R. Mayor“Extracts from the Journal of Rev Robert Mayer” in Proceedings of the Church Missionary Society 1818-1819 London pp. 340-4 here p. 342 quoted in E.J. Harris Theravāda Buddhism and the British Encounter… p. 192.
S Langdon“Visits to Mission Stations No VII”The Ceylon FriendOctober 1890 pp. 114-16 in which Langdon writes “The first school was established in a Buddhist Pansala (priest’s residence where he is supposed to teach the young) of all places in the world. Under these singular conditions the school was begun at the invitation of the priest who urged as reason “the wandering character of his own system.” (p. 114).
See for instance B. Clough“Extract from a letter from Clough, to Mr Buckley, Point de Galle, 112 Feb 1816”Methodist MagazineVol. XXXIX October 1816 p. 398 quoted in E.J. Harris Theravāda Buddhism and the British Encounter… p. 21 in which Clough claims he and Harvard have spent much of their time “in conversation in a quiet way with the most learned priests we could meet with”.
Benjamin Clough“Extract of a Letter from Clough to Mr John Barber, Dated Colombo Aug. 30, 1815”Methodist MagazineVol. XXXIX p. 196-7 quoted in E.J. Harris Theravāda Buddhism and the British Encounter… p. 197.
B. Clough“Extract of a Letter from Clough to Mr John Barber, Dated Colombo Aug. 30, 1815”Methodist MagazineVol. XXXIX p. 196-7 quoted in E.J. Harris Theravāda Buddhism and the British Encounter… p. 197.
See for instance“The Progress of the Gospel”The FriendVol.VI (V) November 1842 in which the Editor (Spence Hardy?) realizes that the christianization of Sri Lanka will not be in his lifetime: “The associations of more than two thousand years have to be overcome; the gloom of many generations has to be penetrated; a religion has to be swept away that numbers more followers than the cross that is powerful from its mysteriousness and that has its locality not in forms or customs the absurdity of which might be exposed but in the deep recesses of man’s imagination where it has chambers of refuge without end.”
See E.J. HarrisTheravāda Buddhism and the British Encounter… p. 199although I also found two CMS reports that implied Buddhism was becoming weaker: CMS Report 1852-1853 pp 137-8; CMS Report 1856–1857 p. 149.
In1839he had published a rebuttal of the Ceylon Almanac that used some of the same arguments (See R. Young & G.P.V. Somaratna Vain Debates… pp. 68-69). He used similar arguments in: “Knowledge as Connected with Native Conversion” The Friend Vol. IV (III) September 1840 pp. 53-60 & Vol. IV (IV) October 1840 pp. 61-63 which argues that Buddhists should be challenged not on their history but on “the principal personages connected with the origin of their religion” (p. 57) their geography their astronomy and their science.
See for instance“Colombo District Report”The Ceylon FriendMay 1888 pp. 487-490 in which the writer laments the length of time that must elapse before “the whole heathen population of Ceylon shall before the feet of Jesus”.
J.F. Dickson“Ceylon”The English Illustrated MagazineOctober 1889 pp. 16-25 here p. 25 quoted in E.J. Harris Theravāda Buddhism and the British Encounter… p. 1 & pp. 117-124. See also The Ceylon Friend November 1889 p. 98 in which the editor criticises Dickson’s article: “There will very soon be no room left for Christian Missions if Missionaries are to avoid Mohammedanism on account of its purity and Buddhism on account of its veritable antiquity”. For a survey of Dickson’s representation of Buddhism see E.J. Harris Theravāda Buddhism and the British Encounter… pp. 117-124.
See E.J. HarrisTheravāda Buddhism and the British Encounter… pp. 208-212where several instances of mistrust are cited including the boycott of the visit of Pope John Paul II in January 1995 by some members of the monastic Sangha.