Buddhist Sectarianism in Burma’s Last Kingdom

Colloquium | May 2 | 5-6:30 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

 Alexandra Kaloyanides, Postdoctoral Scholar, Stanford University

 Center for Buddhist Studies, Center for Southeast Asia Studies

The collapse of Burma’s final kingdom was devastating for the Buddhist organizations that depended on its royal sponsorship. The nineteenth-century encroachment of the British Raj crippled both the Konbaung Dynasty and its once-powerful monastic establishment, but it also created opportunities for opposition parties. One adversarial Buddhist sect, the Paramats, was particularly active between the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852 and the total colonization of the country in 1886. This reformist sect has been something of a mystery in the study of Burmese Buddhism because of minimal references to them in official Burmese materials. This paper examines a previously unstudied collection of documents dating from 1830–1880 found in an American missionary archive to argue that the Paramats were not a kind of Mahayanist group dedicated to propounding emptiness teachings, as scholars have argued, but rather, they were a Burmese Buddhist organization concerned with protesting laxity within mainstream monasteries and excess at royally-sponsored shrines. These archival documents suggest that scholars should attend to politics, as well as philosophy, to understand this particular sectarian development and similar religious reform movements at the end of the Konbaung Dynasty.

Alexandra Kaloyanides is a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Ho Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford University. She researches Burmese religions and American religious history. Her book manuscript, “Objects of Conversion, Relics of Resistance,” examines the religious contestations, conversions, and transformations during the nineteenth-century American Baptist mission to Burma.

 buddhiststudies@berkeley.edu, 510-643-5104