Birma & Religion - History of Social Movements

Birma & Religion – History of Social Movements

Here is the literature for the social movements session about the role of religion in social movements, taking the case study of Burma (Myanmar). There are three articles we feel you should read to participate in the discussion


The first one, an introduction from “Disruptive Religion” (1996) reader by Christian Smith, gives a general overview and theory on (often neglected) role of organized religion in social movements.

The second one, Chapter 7 from Juliane Schober’s book “Modern Buddhist Conjuctures in Myanmar” (2011), discusses the 2007 protests in Burma against the oppressive military government. It focuses on the crucial role of Buddhist monks who led the uprising.

Finally, an essay “In Quest of Democracy” (1992) by Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese human rights advocate and Nobel Peace Prize winner, shows her interpretation of values of democracy and human rights in Buddhist terms.

Also, you can take a look at this documentary about the protest:

A couple of notes and clarifications before reading:

  • 89% of people in Burma are Buddhists.
  • Sangha means monkhood; community of monks.
  • Vipassana – practice which leads to wisdom, especially transcendent wisdom (Panna), intuitive knowledge of ultimate truth, highest wisdom possible leading to Nibbana; path to enlightenment; mastered to perfection by Buddhas; mental culture, meditation and contemplation.
  • Nibbana – transcendent stage of existence; embodies perfection; very difficult to obtain.
  • Samsara – cycle of rebirth.
  • Kamma (Karma) – action; one’s deed, word or thought that predeterminates one’s future; luck, fortune; to suffer consequences of bad actions means to ‘be hit by great karmas’; to do good things (charity, morality, mental culture) is to improve good fortune in life – to ‘have good karma’; only vipassana can burn bad karma – erase misfortune coming from past deeds and level inequality and status differences.
  • Dhamma – law, justice; Buddhist Universal Law.
  • Dana – alms (contributions, offerings) to monks’ community.
  • Vinaya – monastic discipline; monks are governed by vinaya, not by civil law.

You can also read some attached extra literature:

  • Human Rights Watch Report from 2009 tells the story in monks’ own words and is filled with great photos.
  • A more recent news report for people who understand Dutch:
  • Chapter 4 from Ingrid Jordt’s “Burma’s Mass Lay Meditation Movement: Buddhism and the Cultural Construction of Power” (2007) discusses religious sphere as an alternative space for government critique and movement mobilization in an oppressive regime.
  • Schober’s “Buddhism, Violence and the State in Burma and Sri Lanka” (2004) discusses violence and non-violence in South Asian Buddhism.
  • Wikipedia page on Aung San Suu Kyi is fairly exhaustive:

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