The Monk's Three Bodies: (De)constructing 'Buddhist Law’ in Colonial Ceylon/Sri Lanka

Key information

5:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Paul Webley Wing (Senate House)

About this event

In the late 1800s a new legal category emerged in colonial Ceylon: Buddhist law. Drawn from a larger book project, this paper considers the emergence of this category and its subsequent ‘trifurcation’ and ‘jurisdictionalisation’ during Sri Lanka’s long nineteenth century.

I argue that that the development of Buddhist law as a legal rubric differs in instructive ways from the seemingly analogous development of Anglo-Hindu and Anglo-Mohammedan law. Whereas Anglo-Hindu and Anglo-Mohammedan law were the products of artificial codification and consolidation, the colonial construction of Buddhist law was also a deconstruction: a dissection and disjointing of pre-existing elements across multiple authorities and jurisdictions. This talk will be of interest to those interested in law, colonisation and religion in South and Southeast Asia.

About the speaker

Benjamin Schonthal is Professor of Buddhist Studies and Head of the Religion Programme at the University of Otago in Aotearoa/New Zealand, where he also co-directs the Otago Centre for Law and Society. Ben received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and has held visiting positions at Northwestern University, the Institute for Advanced Studies (Bielefeld) and the Law School at the University of Chicago. Ben's research examines the intersections of religion, law and politics in South and Southeast Asia. He is the author of Buddhism, Politics and the Limits of Law (CUP, 2016) and co-editor of Buddhism and Comparative Constitutional Law (CUP, 2023, with Tom Ginsburg). His current book project, Law's Karma, supported by the Royal Society of New Zealand, examines the institutions,  politics and practices of Buddhist law in contemporary Southern Asia.