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Countering Buddhist radicalisation: emerging peace movements in Myanmar and Sri Lanka

Journal article
Authors Camilla Orjuela
Published in Third World Quarterly
Volume 41
Issue 1
Pages 133–150
ISSN 0143-6597
Publication year 2020
Published at School of Global Studies, Peace and Development Research
Pages 133–150
Language en
Keywords civil society, peacebuilding, religion, resistance and activism, Myanmar, Sri Lanka
Subject categories Peace and development research, Peace and conflict research


Violence and hate speech endorsed by Buddhist monks against Muslim minorities in South and Southeast Asia have attracted global attention in recent years, and been the focus for a growing academic scholarship. This article turns the attention to peace activists, religious – including Buddhist – leaders and other civil society actors seeking to counter anti-Muslim agitation in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Drawing on theories about social movements and countermovements, it analyses the diverse counter-forces, their activities and the obstacles they face. Doing so, the article contributes to an understanding of peacebuilding in religiously framed conflicts, and of the conditions for peace movements in an age of radicalisation and online activism. Based on interviews with civil society representatives and religious leaders, complemented with secondary sources, the study finds that although the peace movements are weaker and largely reactive to and restrained by the radical Buddhist nationalist movements, they constitute important counter-voices. The article also argues that the struggle between hate speech and counter speech in social media constitutes an important part of the movement–countermovement dynamics. Finally, the article suggests that theories on opposing movements can usefully be developed to enhance our understanding of mobilisation in different arenas in conflict-affected societies.

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