The « Hindus and Others in South Asia and Overseas » research program, hosted by the Center for South Asian Studies of Paris (CEIAS, UMR 8564 EHESS/CNRS), considers Hinduism as a historical point of contact between various religious traditions and ethnic groups. Countless situations of contacts with other religious groups have left their marks on Hinduism, contradicting the ethnic dimension many scholars have focused on. Such relevance of contact in the history of Hinduism is well known in South Asia but must also be analyzed in diasporic contexts.
The aim of this conference, co-organized by the Center for South Asian Studies of Paris and the Center for Studies and Research on India, South Asia and its Diaspora of Montréal (CERIAS/UQÀM), is to focus on Sri Lankan Hinduism and to initiate a discussion on how Hinduism and Hindus interact with other groups and religions they encounter on the island and overseas.
Accounting for 15% of the 21 million inhabitants of the country, Hindu communities live in very different contexts around the island. In the Northern Province, where Tamils make up more than 80% of the population, they are a large majority. In the Eastern Province and in Colombo, where the share of Sinhaleses, Tamils and Muslims is approximately equal, Hindus live together with Muslims, Christians and especially Buddhists (whose religion is the official religion of the state). The Up-Country Tamils, descendants of South Indians, live in the island’s central hills in remote areas surrounded by Sinhaleses. For them, religious practices are also a way to assert their identity and to differentiate themselves from the Sinhala Buddhists and Hindu Tamils of the coastal provinces.
The emigration of Sri Lankan Hindus is an old phenomenon. During British rule, the colonial state recruited many Jaffna Tamils to work in their administration or in the railway sector in Malaya. After Independence, because of the deterioration of interethnic relations and war, many Tamils fled the island for India and Western countries. These expatriates and refugees often set up temples in their host country, where they try to rebuild their lives and their religious practices. In these contexts, Sri Lankan Hindus live with other Hindu groups as well as other ethnic and religious communities. They also have to negotiate their status and sometimes transform their practices to be accepted by the host state.
During this conference, Sri Lankan Hinduism will be regarded as a contact point between different traditions, groups and territories both on the island and in the diaspora. Drawing on several case studies located in Sri Lanka, Paris and Montréal, the papers will question the relations to others within Sri Lankan Hindu communities (in terms of castes, regional or ethnic traditions, etc.) as well as to other religions and religious groups. Thus this conference should help to understand how Sri Lankan Hindus interact with groups and spaces perceived as exterior, and what these interactions reveal in terms of religious, social and territorial dynamics. It should also provide a good appraisal of the consequences of these contacts on the nature of contemporary Sri Lankan Hinduism in terms of religious practices and representations, and in terms of politics.
Discussant: Mathieu Boisvert (CERIAS-UQÀM)
Discussant: Pierre-Yves Trouillet (CNRS-CEIAS)
12h00 Lunck Break
Discussant: Michel Boivin (CNRS-CEIAS)
Discussant: Mathieu Claveyrolas (CNRS-CEIAS)
Discussant: Christine Moliner (EHESS-CEIAS)