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Religion and

the Colonial State

Religion and the Colonial State explores the beginnings of contemporary religious identity formation in British colonial Ceylon. 

Over the centuries, Sri Lanka's social, economic, political and religious landscape was actively shaped by the arrival of diverse traders, travellers, emissaries from around the world, as well as the violent occupations of competing European colonial powers.

Ceylon's forceful 'unification' under the British crown in 1815 marks a significant juncture in its eventual consolidation as a 'state'. The signing of the Kandyan Convention established a formal recognition of the association between the state and Buddhism. This would have far-reaching implications for modern-day Sri Lanka. This historical juncture determined the religious 'identity' of the state and the relationship between the state and its citizens of diverse faith and belief. It was a relationship that was contrastingly defined by both patronage and violence. The identities and practices of Sri Lanka’s ethno-religious communities became more firmly demarcated by colonial administrative categorizations of race, ethnicity and religion, as well as local and global conflicts and connections.

By foregrounding a series of landmark events that took place between 1815-1915, we explore the legislative legacies of the colonial state and the 'modern' conception and socialization of Sri Lanka's ethno-religious communities. Where local religious practices and rituals were viewed as sites of potential anti-imperial dissent, we invite visitors to reflect on inter-religious tensions exacerbated by repressive policy and the aftermaths of colonial oppression and state atrocity.

CW/TW: Descriptions, depictions and discussions of colonial and communal violence, death, derogatory language and visuals, discriminatory attitudes or actions.