The Road Less Travelled: From Landways to Seaways in the Study of Theravāda Buddhism

Jack Meng-Tat Chia


Although Charles Hallisey’s seminal 1995 essay is primarily concerned with the ways European colonial scholars approached Theravāda Buddhism in majority Theravāda contexts, its emphasis on two key topics—the importance of ritual and the dynamics of the “local production of meaning”—laid the foundation for a range of recent studies that explore the history and contemporary developments of Theravāda Buddhist communities in the Malay Archipelago region. This article charts how the neglected topics Hallisey urged scholars to attend to have opened new pathways for the study of Theravāda minority communities. Drawing on recent studies of Theravāda Buddhist communities in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, I discuss how Theravāda Buddhists established institutions, participated in rituals, and relied on vernacular and non-canonical texts to preserve their sense of diasporic identity and ensure the survival of Buddhism as a minority religion.


Indonesia; Malaysia; Singapore; Maritime Southeast Asia; Southeast Asian Buddhism

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