Anne Blackburn

Engaging the Adventurers: A New Perspective on Dharmapala and Olcott in Colonial Lanka

Nineteenth-century Lankan Buddhism is often described in terms of a ‘Buddhist revival’ linked to the laicization of Buddhist leadership and, especially, the activities of two strong figures: Anagarika Dharmapala (associated first with the Theosophical and then the Maha Bodhi Society) and Henry Olcott (the Theosophical Society). Drawing on diaries, and epistolary and newspaper
records in Pali, Sinhala and English from Lanka, as well as records from the Theosophical Society and the Maha Bodhi Society, this paper reconsiders the relationship between these lay activists and leading Lankan monks at a time of dynamic Buddhist responses to changing social and economic realities, as well as the reception given to Olcott and Dharmapala in the regional Buddhist world of their time.

Anne M. Blackburn is Associate Professor of South Asia Studies and Buddhist Studies in the Department of Asian Studies at Cornell University. She taught at the University of South Carolina before joining Cornell’s faculty. She holds a BA from Swarthmore College, and MA and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Chicago Divinity School. Blackburn studies Buddhism in South and
Southeast Asia, with a special interest in Buddhist monastic culture and Buddhist participation in networks linking Sri Lanka and mainland Southeast Asia before and during colonial presence in the region. Her publications include Buddhist Learning and Textual Practice in Eighteenth-Century Lankan Monastic Culture (Princeton, 2001), Approaching the Dhamma: Buddhist
Texts and Practices in South and Southeast Asia, co-edited with Jeffrey Samuels (BPS Pariyatti Editions, 2003), and Locations of Buddhism: Colonialism and Modernity in Sri Lanka (Chicago, 2010). She is working on a new project, Monks, Texts, and Relics: The Sihala Sangha in Southern Asia.