Dr Matthew Walton receives a grant to study Buddhist Nationalism in Myanmar

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Congratulations to Dr Matthew Walton, who has received an award from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) for a project entitled ‘Understanding Buddhist Nationalism in Myanmar: Religion, Identity, and Conflict in a Political Transition’.

In the context of Myanmar's political opening since March 2011, Buddhist activism has made headlines over the past two years due to outbreaks of communal violence across the country marked by religious difference, that threaten to derail Myanmar's once-promising transition. Many see a connection between these violent episodes and the rise of new Buddhist networks and organizations, including the 969 and MaBaTha movements. However, aspects of the conflict connected to religious identity are poorly understood and research on this topic needs to carefully address the ways in which anti-Muslim actions are difficult to separate from pro-Buddhist impulses. Equally important is the intersection between religious identities and gender, as much of the nationalist discourse focuses on the protection of women as a way of protecting both Buddhism and the nation. A critical aspect of this approach is to take seriously the fears and perceptions of different groups to understand how they shape attitudes towards others and towards religious and national identity.

This research project seeks to critically assess and disaggregate the category of "Buddhist nationalism" in Myanmar by focusing on two complementary aspects of the phenomenon: the production, dissemination, and resonance of narratives that potentially justify violence by positing a Muslim threat to Buddhism and the Burmese nation; and the gendered discourse of nationalism, produced through nationalist rhetoric and both reinforced and contested via the perspectives of women who, respectively, support and oppose it.

The project started on 1 August 2016 and runs until 31 July 2018.

Dr Matthew Walton is Aung San Suu Kyi Senior Research Fellow in Modern Burmese Studies, St. Antonys College