1. Locations of Buddhism: Colonialism and Modernity in Sri Lanka. By Anne M. Blackburn. The University of Chicago Press, 2010. 237 pages. $45.00. 2. Elizabeth J. Harris, Liverpool Hope University, UK.
The focus of this excellent book, Locations of Buddhism: Colonialism and Modernity in Sri Lanka, is Ven Hikkaḍuwē Sumaṅgala (1827–1911), a scholar monk, who lived in Ceylon (or to use Anne Blackburn's term, Laṅkā) at the height of British imperial power. It is more than a biography. Blackburn's aim is to present a “methodological example” (203) of the scholarship she believes to be necessary if the impact of colonialism on Buddhist communities is to be assessed with precision. Through using the human-scale example of one prominent Buddhist figure, she opens a window on the network of intellectual, social, and institutional processes that characterized Sri Lankan Buddhism at this time.
Her study aims to engage with a powerful recent voice in Sri Lankan Studies, which has stressed that Buddhism in nineteenth-century Sri Lanka should be understood through the filters of “Buddhist modernism,” “Buddhist Revival,” and “Protestant Buddhism” (197). It is an approach that has rightly taken the operation of power in situations of imperial domination seriously but, according to Blackburn, has been dangerously myopic. It has used descriptors that are not transparent and has made the mistake of viewing Buddhism at this time simply as a reaction to colonialism, ignoring patterns of continuity and pan-Asian webs of solidarity within the lives of Sri Lankan Buddhists.
The book is divided into six chapters. Five of these meticulously examine Hikkaḍuwē’s concerns and involvements, drawing from Sinhala, Pāli, and English sources. The shorter sixth chapter offers theoretical reflection. Apart from a brief mention of his birth and ordination in the Preface, the reader first meets Hikkaḍuwē in the 1860s, at the age of forty-one, an …