In this study a social and cultural anthropologist and a specialist in the study of religion pool their talents to examine recent changes in popular religion in Sri Lanka. As the Sinhalas themselves perceive it, Buddhism proper has always shared the religious arena with a spirit religion. While Buddhism concerns salvation, the spirit of religion focuses on worldly welfare. Buddhism Transformed describes and analyzes the changes that have profoundly altered the character of Sinhala religion in both areas. This is the first book to record systematically the cultural impact of the deterioration in how the "other half" lives in Sri Lanka. After Sri Lankan independence in 1948, health care advanced and literacy became universal, but the economy was unable to meet the rising expectations of the exploding population. People became poorer and more mobile, and the village community began to disappear. As new stresses in Sri Lankan society create new psychological needs, changes have occurred in what the authors call Protestant Buddhism (the Buddhism formed under Protestant influence after British conquest). In the spirit cults, morally less scrupulous gods have become prominent, and more people seek and value altered states of consciousness. Finally the authors suggest that developments that seem startling in Sri Lanka are not unprecedented in the religious history of India.
Gananath Obeyesekere is an Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University and has done much work in his home country of Sri Lanka.
Professor Obeyesekere completed a B.A. in English (1955) at the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, followed by an M.A. (1958) and PhD (1964) at the University of Washington. Before his appointment to Princeton, Obeyesekere held teaching positions at the University of Ceylon, the University of Washington and the University of California, San Diego.
Debate with Sahlins
In the 1990s he entered into a well-known intellectual debate with Marshall Sahlins over the rationality of indigenous peoples. The debate was carried out through an examination of the details of Captain James Cook's death in the Hawaiian Islands in 1779. At the heart of the debate was how to understand the rationality of indigenous people. Obeyesekere insisted that indigenous people thought in essentially the same way as Westerners and was concerned that any argument otherwise would paint them as "irrational" and "uncivilized". In contrast, Sahlins argued that each culture may have different types of rationality that make sense of the world by focusing on different patterns and explain them within specific cultural narratives, and that assuming that all cultures lead to a single rational view is a form of eurocentrism.
- Land Tenure In Village Ceylon: A Sociological And Historical Study, 1967
- Medusa's Hair: An Essay On Personal Symbols And Religious Experience, 1981
- The Cult Of The Goddess Pattini, Motilal Banarsidass- 1984
- Buddhism Transformed: Religious Change in Sri Lanka (with Richard Gombrich), Motilal Banarsidass-1988
- The Work Of Culture: Symbolic Transformation In Psychoanalysis And Anthropology, 1990
- The Apotheosis Of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking In The Pacific, 1992
- Imagining Karma: Ethical Transformation in Amerindian, Buddhist, and Greek Rebirth, 2002
- Cannibal Talk: The Man-Eating Myth and Human Sacrifice in the South Seas, 2005
- Karma and Rebirth, Motilal Banarsidass- 2005
- The Awakened Ones: Phenomenology of Visionary Experience, 2012
- The Doomed King: A Requiem For Sri Vikrama Rajasinha, 2017