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Real change: translating salvation in Myanmar

Edwards, Michael (2018) Real change: translating salvation in Myanmar. PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

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Abstract

This dissertation is a study of the encounter between Christianity and Buddhism in contemporary Myanmar. Based on eighteen months of fieldwork, in the period preceding and following the landmark 2015 election, it explores how local Pentecostal evangelists navigate the country’s staggered democratic transition. It focuses specifically on how these evangelists take up what they see as new ‘democratic’ opportunities to more publically share the gospel with Buddhist audiences, even as they contend with new difficulties the transition also brings. By distributing gospel tracts on footpaths, preaching about salvation on trains, and holding revival meetings near Buddhist pagodas, these minority Christians enter into a public sphere only just emerging from five decades of authoritarianism and censorship. This is a moment, they say, when God is saving Myanmar – rescuing the country from military rule, and also bringing its Buddhist-majority population to Christ. But as much as they cast the transition as a potential rupture, they also see signs of continuity and backsliding: ongoing state suppression of dissent; a crony class entrenching its economic power; the introduction of new laws regulating religious difference; and little proof that a population that remains 90% Buddhist, notwithstanding two centuries of mission work, is newly interested in Jesus. I argue that this sense of dissonance characterises not just their experience of the transition, but a wider set of Burmese Pentecostal encounters: with Buddhists and Buddhism; with the state’s management of religious difference; and with the figure of the Myanmar nation. Showing how each of these encounters is shot through with misrecognition, mistranslation, and incongruity, this thesis suggests that such dissonance might be productive insofar as it mediates interactions in conditions of fraught religious plurality. In doing so, this thesis contributes to the burgeoning literature on religion in Myanmar; to the comparative anthropology of Christianity by exploring several of its central concepts – sincerity, nation, rupture – in their encounter with another dominant religious tradition; and to a wider set of debates concerning translation, pluralism, publics, and the temporality of democratic transitions.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2018 Michael Edwards
Library of Congress subject classification: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BQ Buddhism
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Engelke, Matthew and James, Deborah
URI: http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/4171

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