Past Event

A talk by Neena Mahadev (Yale-NSU College)

April 11, 2022
4:15 PM - 5:45 PM
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Neena Mahadev

A talk by Neena Mahadev (Yale-NUS College)

“Buddhist Territoriality and Pneumatic ‘Encroachment’ in Sri Lanka: Buddhist-Pentecostal rivalries of sovereignty, sanctity, and soil”

Co-sponsored by the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life

This will be an online event only - if you wish to attend remotely, please register below for the Zoom link.

Abstract:  Based upon ethnographic study of Sri Lankan Pentecostal practices, and Buddhists’ criticisms of Born-again modalities of religious transmission, this paper builds upon prescient emerging at the intersection of studies of religion and of media. Whereas mediums of religious transmission within Pentecostal Christianity are pneumatic (relating to breath and spirit), and haptic (through the materialized touch of the Holy Spirit), the sanctification and legitimization of Buddhist polities rely on very different ritual and political modalities. The upshot is that Sinhala Buddhists take themselves to be “sons of the soil,” whereas Sri Lankan Pentecostals are seen as encroaching upon this soil through their charismatic methods of materializing the spirit. The analysis relates the differentials in Buddhist and Christian ideologies and “sensational forms” (citing Keane 2007 & Meyer 2009), to highly politicized conceptions of the “ethics” of religious attraction that are provocatively espoused in Sri Lanka.

Neena Mahadev  is Assistant Professor in Social Sciences at Yale University-National University of Singapore College.  She is an anthropologist with research, theoretical, and teaching expertise in the anthropology of religion, media and ritual mediations, political economy, pluralism, political theologies, South Asia, and Inter-Asian Studies. She has carried out extensive fieldwork in Sri Lanka and in Singapore. She received her PhD in Anthropology from Johns Hopkins University, an MA in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago, and a BA in Sociology/Anthropology from Carleton College.

Mahadev was awarded the Claremont Prize for the Study of Religion by the Columbia Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life for her book manuscript, Of Karma and Grace: Mediating Religious Difference in Millennial Sri Lanka, forthcoming from Columbia University Press.

Before joining Yale-NUS, Asst Prof Mahadev was a Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity (Germany). She carried out ethnographic research on religious communities in Singapore, focusing on itineraries of movement between South and Southeast Asia. As a Postdoctoral Fellow within the Transregional Research Network at the University of Göttingen, she worked with anthropologists and historians of religion to study the ‘Politics of Secularism and the Emergence of New Religiosities’ in Asia.