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Pressure Groups in Sri Lanka




RELIGION AND POLITICS IN SRI LANKA
By Urmila Phadnis
Manohar Book Service, 1976, 376, 60.00

VOLUME I NUMBER 3 July - September 1976

In any study of developing societies and parti­cularly when efforts are made to analyse the process of transition from traditional patterns to those of modernity, it is inevitable to blur the line between different institutional structures—both traditional and secular. It is very difficult to separate religion from politics. In fact, this is precisely the task which Urmila Phadnis has undertaken. She has chosen to study the inter-relationship between reli­gion and politics in Sri Lanka. Buddhism has always been the religion of more than 90 percent of the population of Sri Lanka and this has import­ant implications, for, Buddhism dominates the entire life of the people in Sri Lanka. Tracing the history of Buddhism and its development, the author has rightly pointed out that it has been very flexible and accommodative to the demands of environment. Thus even the forces of caste and kinship were allowed to influence Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Colonial rule adversely affected Buddhism by creat­ing or rather by sharpening the rift between reli­gious elites and the masses. Of course, the British policy was characterized by ambivalence in the sense that while it wanted to leave religion alone, it was not allowed to dominate the secular and political field. Quite in keeping with the flexibility and even certain distortions, the emergence of class divisions amongst the Buddhists can help explain some of the important problems which came to the fore in the post-Independence period. The author has described in great detail the role played by the various religious organizations in respect of religious life, social life and the entire institutional framework of Sri Lanka. Religion and politics have both interacted with each other thus affecting each other. It is very clear that religion as a force cannot remain unaffected by the mundane economic and political forces if it wants to govern the life of a people. British rule meant domi­nation of the Christian religion and the religion of the majority had to be ignored and even done injustice to. Such injustice had to be redressed after independence and that is why even S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who wanted to have a secular state, had to concede that the injustice done to Buddhism had to be redressed. There was a con­viction on the part of political leaders of various shades and parties that Buddhism, the religion of the majority, had to ...


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