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Religious Traditions in Politics: Buddhism  

André Laliberté

Buddhists constitute a majority of the population in peninsular Southeast Asia, but the largest concentration of Buddhists lives in East Asia. The delay between the times the Buddha gave his teachings and they were transcribed in written form and the adoption of the latter through centuries in countries with vastly different cultures hampered the development of a unified Buddhist political thought. Two major trends within Buddhism aspire to influence contemporary politics: “Buddhism for the human realm,” a reform movement originating in Republican China, and “engaged Buddhism,” which is a contemporary international network of activists rather than a systematic body of thought. The three major schools of Buddhism do not differ fundamentally on matters of doctrine, so the variety of Buddhist political orientations has more to do with the historical and national circumstances of the religion’s diffusion. Buddhism has expanded out of its country of origin, India, where it has almost disappeared but remains an important source of soft power. The Mahayana school has spread to China, where it has developed an eschatology that has inspired rebellions through history. The Theravada school has spread to Southeast Asia and has provided a source of legitimation for many rulers. The colonial era brought a key change, as lay Buddhists and monastics inspired many nationalist movements. Only six governments give a “special place” to Buddhism in their constitutions, but other countries with large Buddhist populations feel its influence on politics through the sangha. In countries of the Theravada tradition, monastics play an important role in politics, whereas in countries where the Mahayana school prevails lay associations mobilize Buddhists. Very few Buddhist political parties have emerged and only in Japan has one endured in a coalition government. In Southeast Asia, the politics of Buddhism is often associated with nationalist intransigence, in contrast to the peaceful and tolerant image of the religion’s politics promoted by many of its exiled leaders in the “engaged Buddhist” network.

Article

Terrorism and Religion: An Overview  

Peter Henne

The terrorist attacks of 9/11—in which al-Qaeda operatives flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and attempted to crash an additional plane into the Capitol Building in Washington, DC—highlighted for many the role religion could play in terrorism. Al-Qaeda, an Islamist terrorist network striving to undermine U.S. influence in Muslim countries, combined a global religious ideology with brutal violence in a way that caught the attention of policymakers and scholars. Since then, academics have been attempting to analyze and understand how religion and terrorism intersect. Scholars have debated whether religion is a distinctive aspect of contemporary terrorism or is secondary in importance to other factors, such as nationalism and rational calculations. Some scholars take a critical approach to the topic, pointing to normative concerns with the study of religion and terrorism, and disparate other scholars have analyzed how religion and terrorism relate to a vast array of topics from public opinion to political repression. After surveying the literature, it is difficult to question the distinctiveness of religious terrorism. Yet it also appears that terrorism does not arise inevitably from religious beliefs, nor is it unique to Islam. Moreover, religion seems to be connected to the transnational nature of contemporary terrorism. One particularly useful approach moving forward may be to draw on the relational approach to contentious politics that scholars such as Charles Tilly have formulated. This article’s approaches religious terrorism as violence or the threat of violence motivated by religion that intends to effect political change. This article will thus focus on how acts of violence that fall within the above definition relate to “religious imperatives,” and what the effects of these connections are. Charles Tilly’s approach to political violence, which conceptualizes terrorism as one manifestation of the range of political violence types, extends from brawls and riots to full-scale civil war. As a result, insights into how religion affects related forms of political violence can inform our understanding of religion and terrorism. Terrorism can also be understood as a nonstate phenomenon. Although states can commit terroristic acts, terrorism as a distinct tactic involves nonstate actors. State behavior—particularly religious repression—can have significant impact on the incidence and severity of religious terrorism in a country, however.

Article

Sri Lanka’s Military: From Ceremonial to Professional  

Ayesha Siddiqa

Civil–military relations (CMR) in Sri Lanka are an outgrowth of its military’s primary role of defending the state against domestic insurgencies. Historically devoid of any external threat, the main role of the Sri Lankan Army, which was the only active service at the time of independence of the island state in 1948, was ceremonial. Later, when the Air Force and Navy were also established, the role of the armed forces remained limited to policing. This function grew as a result of multiple insurgencies in the south, and later, north and northeast of the country. The CMR balance is defined by Sri Lanka’s politics. Successive governments have used the armed forces as a policy tool in enforcing a political philosophy that upholds Sri Lanka’s status as a Sinhala-Buddhist state. Over the years, the state was gradually transformed from its secular and semi-European character to predominantly, Sinhala-Buddhist. This resulted in the first coup attempt in 1962 by officers that were fearful of “Sinhalization” of the state, which went against the traditions the military had inherited. While the attempt failed, the political leadership speeded up the process of changing the ethnic balance in the armed forces through increasing Sinhala intake. Other policy changes like introducing Sinhalese as the only state language went against the inherited secular structure of the state. This caused a spike in internal tension that presented itself initially as a class conflict, and later morphed into ethnic contestation between the Sinhala and Tamil populations. The internal ethnic war that was fought from the 1970s onwards solidified both the Sinhala ethnic character of the state and the military. These domestic conflicts have also defined the professionalism of the armed forces. While ensuring that the military remains under control, the civilian leadership invested both in making the armed forces professional and ethnically tilted toward the majority. This contradiction represents Sri Lanka’s politics and CMR balance. Since the 1980s with a rise in Tamil insurgency, successive governments in Colombo appreciated the need to professionalize the military to fight internal wars. More money was spent on honing the defense services’ capabilities. However, this capacity building ensured that the military and its military capacity would serve the political interest of the Sinhala elite and majority population, with little concern for the political rights of the Tamil. In this respect, Colombo’s politics is unrepresentative and its CMR balance makes for a model that can only be explained as positively favoring civilians if viewed only from the theoretician Samuel P. Huntington’s viewpoint as laid out in his book ‘The Soldier and the State’. This makes Sri Lanka’s case similar to those of other regional democracies like India where the majority ethnic group or the ruling elite partner uses the armed forces to enforce its legal and constitutional framework, which does not necessarily favor minority groups, or certain regions. Such a framework means that the CMR balance must be described as representing not a strong and stable democracy, but a weak democratic structure.

Article

Foreign Policy and Religion: Tibetan Independence Movement  

Tenzin Dorjee

Conventional wisdom holds that Buddhism plays an important role in fueling the Tibetan independence struggle. Monks and nuns occupy a prominent place in the Tibetan struggle and the Tibetan uprisings of 1987 and 2008 were led by monastics. There is strong evidence that Buddhist frameworks, folklore, and institutions have helped to sustain nationalist mobilization at the grassroots level. However, at the elite level, the effect of Buddhism’s core doctrines on nationalist mobilization is puzzling. The Dalai Lama, the leader of the Tibetan freedom struggle, has pursued policies that have restrained Tibetan nationalism and discouraged mass mobilization since the 1970s. Many of his political decisions—especially his 1988 decision to change the goal of the struggle from independence to autonomy—are anything but nationalistic. His successor Samdhong Rinpoche marginalized the Tibetan nationalists who demanded independence, setting in motion forces that contributed to the eventual de-escalation of the Tibetan freedom movement. While there are numerous explanatory variables behind the political decisions of both leaders, the unique fingerprints of Buddhist influence are evident in their politics and policies. How have Buddhist ideology and institutions constrained Tibetan nationalist mobilization? What role has Buddhist doctrinal belief played in the Tibetan leadership’s concessions to China in the 1980s and the curtailing of the Tibetan independence movement in the 2000s? Examination of the complex relationship among Buddhism, nationalism, and Tibetan foreign policy highlights how some of the doctrines and institutions of Buddhism have constrained the Tibetan political movement.

Article

Interconnected Asian History and “Open” World Orders  

Manjeet S. Pardesi

Historical Asia was an interconnected system of “open” world orders. This is a crucial theoretical takeaway for International Relations (IR) theory from historical Asia. In other words, there has never been one single order covering all of Asia or any of its subregions. There were multiple, unevenly overlapping orders in historical Asia. This perspective, which is rooted in the global historical approach to IR, challenges the Eurocentric notion of the “containerized” version of Asian regional worlds and world orders that only came into meaningful contact with each other because of the early modern European expansion. At the same time, this global and historical perspective also challenges all essentialist views of the East Asian past that characterize that part of the world as living in splendid Sinocentric isolation for thousands of years until China and East Asia were “opened up” by the West. Two crucial periods and processes of Asian history show the deep and transformative impact of the entanglements between South Asia and East Asia for Asian world orders: the Indic-Buddhist impact on China in the 1st millennium (and into the early centuries of the 2nd millennium), and the role of India in the so-called opening up of China by the West in the 19th and 20th centuries. These processes provide two crucial insights. First, historical East Asia was not a China-centered system for 2,000 years. The Buddhist impact on China had a profound impact on both the Chinese worldview and the world order(s) that existed in (East) Asia. More specifically, the Buddhist interconnections across Asia demonstrate that the “international” (or the global) was larger than East Asia, and that China and its eastern neighbors knew that too. Second, and relatedly, pre-European East Asia was not a “closed” system. While the expansion of Europe may have “opened up” China and East Asia in the 19th century, this represented the “opening up” of that part of the world for the West, and not because East Asia lived in Sinocentric isolation from the rest of Asia. Furthermore, Indian resources played a fundamental role in that Sino-Western encounter, thereby demonstrating the interconnectedness of the world orders of South and East Asia. Asia and its subregions defy singular and all-encompassing orders, and Asian history points toward a plurality of open and overlapping orders. Notably, the emerging regional orders in Asia are also pointing toward such a configuration. Asia is not one, but Asia is not disconnected either.

Article

Religious Regulation in Autocracies  

Lawrence C. Reardon

Unlike democracies, the stability and longevity of autocracies are solely dependent on the ability of the paramount leader to maintain and wield power effectively. Whether the autocracy is composed of an absolute monarch or a supreme authoritarian, religious, military, fascist, or communist leader, the autocrat strengthens legitimacy by controlling competing power centers within the state. Autocrats are both envious and fearful of organized religion’s ability to mobilize the citizenry. Whether dealing with large religious organizations or organized religious believers, autocrats can choose to implement negative religious regulations to control or eliminate foreign and domestic religious threats, positive religious regulations to co-opt religious powers, or transformative religious regulations to create new organizations that consolidate and maintain autocratic rule. Adopting an interest-based theoretical approach, the autocratic religious regulations of four countries (China, England, Italy, and Japan) are divided into three categories (negative, positive, and transformative religious regulations). Autocrats within the four countries adopted formal regulations to consolidate their hegemonic control over societal forces within and outside the state.