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Finding Religious Law: Buddhism, Law and “Buddhist Law” in Colonial and Contemporary Ceylon/Sri Lanka

With Benjamin Schonthal, University of Otago

Although they are often imagined as rarified systems of clerical rules, the legal practices of Buddhist monks cannot and should not be understood outside of the broader legal ‘multiverse’ in which they exist. From the earliest periods of Buddhism, regimes of monastic law have coevolved and intertwined with other forms of legality authorised by customs, kings, colonists and modern nation-states. Even the Buddha was said to have been a legal bricoleur, basing some of his disciplinary rules on the edicts of local rulers. In this talk, which draws on my current book project, I reflect on the multi- and inter-legality of Buddhist monastic law in colonial and contemporary Sri Lanka.

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. He received his PhD 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. Professor Schonthal’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.

This Religious Studies event is co-presented with the Department of Humanities and the York Centre for Asian Research.

Please register at this link.

All are welcome.


Sep 27 2023


3:30 pm - 5:00 pm


Founders College - Room 305 @ Founders College, York University


Religious Studies

Other Organizers

Department of Humanities
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