Jeffrey Samuels

Toward an Aesthetic of Monastic Recruitment: The Monastery as an Avenue for Upward Mobility?

One theory that is often used to account for monastic recruitment in South and Southeast Asia posits that boys become monks because monasteries provide them with an avenue for social mobility. While monasteries may provide children with a level of education that may not otherwise be available to them, reducing monastic recruitment to an individual’s or a family’s economic wants and needs masks how aesthetics, social bonds, and emotions affect monastic culture in general and the recruitment process in particular.

Turning to conversations with Sri Lankan monastics, ordinands, and their parents, I seek to nuance the upward mobility thesis. In doing so, I will suggest that accounting for the place that affective-aesthetic bonds have in the recruitment process challenges not only our understanding of monastic recruitment but also the model of generalized economic exchange that is sometimes used to describe how Buddhist institutions are formed and sustained.

Prof. Samuels’ research interests center on the intersection of religion and culture in contemporary Sri Lanka and Malaysia. He recently published a monograph titled Attracting the Heart: Social Relations and the Aesthetics of Emotion in Sri Lankan Monastic Culture (University of Hawaii Press). Since 2006, He began a new book-length project examining the social history of
Theravada Buddhism in Malaysia. Besides publishing one book and co-editing another book (with Anne Blackburn) on Buddhist texts and practices in South and Southeast Asia, he has published more than two dozen articles, book chapters, and book reviews.

This lecture is supported by the University Lectures Committee.