The Irish Buddhist: Transnational Buddhism and Opposition to Empire


Location: 1050 Jenkins Nanovic Halls

Turnera Prof


From 1900 to 1914 U Dhammaloka, a working-class Irish sailor who ordained as a Buddhist monk in Burma, organized missions across Southeast Asia to promote Buddhism and rail against British colonialism. As remarkable as his exploits were, study of Dhammaloka’s career reveals an even more fascinating network of Asian Buddhists organizers and a broader movement of plebian cosmopolitanism which constructed its own conceptions of what Buddhism, belonging and reform might mean. This talk will provide a glimpse into these networks in Rangoon, Bangkok, Singapore and Penang and discuss how paying attention to the religious connections of working class people in colonial areas across Asia can work to reorient the study of religion.


Alicia Turner is Associate Professor of Humanities and Religious Studies at York University. She is interested in the intersections of religion, colonialism, secularism and nationalism in Southeast Asia, with a particular focus on Buddhism in Burma (Myanmar) over the past 150 years. Her book Saving Buddhism: The Impermanence of Religion in Colonial Burma explores the fluid nature of the concepts of sasana, identity and religion through a study of Buddhist lay associations in colonial Burma. Her current projects include a jointed written biography of U Dhammaloka: an Irish sailor and agitator turned Buddhist monk, work on the history and concept of Buddhist secularisms and a genealogy of religious difference and tolerance in Burma (Myanmar).

This lecture is part of Border Crossings in Asian Humanities, a series examining transnational Asian experiences and is sponsored by the Liu Institute, Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies and the Ansari Institute for Global Engagement with Religion.

Originally published at