Religious Diversity in Myanmar

Christian-Buddhist Conference in Yangon on Mission and Religious Education

News Christian-Buddhist Conference in Yangon
Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Großhans (middle, back), Prof. Dr. Perry Schmidt-Leukel, Dr. Samuel Ngun Ling and Dr. Madlen Krüger (from right to left)
© Thawng Thang

Scholars of the Cluster of Excellence have continued their research on the national religious and ethnic diversity in Myanmar. In February in the city of Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, the second conference of the project “Religious Pluralism in Discourse – Buddhists and Christians in Myanmar and Their Treatment of Religious Diversity”, funded by the German Research Association (DFG), focused on missionary work and religious education in the context of Myanmar's religious diversity. Scholar of religious studies and theologian Prof. Dr. Perry Schmidt-Leukel and Protestant theologian Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Großhans from the Cluster of Excellence discussed the topic with Christian and Buddhist colleagues. The conference was organised by scholar of religious studies Dr. Madlen Krüger in cooperation with the “Myanmar Institute of Theology” (MIT). Ms. Krüger works at Münster University and does field research in Myanmar within the framework of a DFG project.

News Christian-Buddhist Conference in Yangon
© Ling’s Family Publications

The results of the first conference in Yangon in 2015, which focussed on the attitudes of Christians and Buddhists on religious diversity, have recently been published in a book. The anthology, “Buddhist and Christian Attitudes to Religious Diversity”, is published by Ling‘s Family Publication in Myanmar and was presented during this year's event. “The book asks the question how limited views in the perception of other religions, which include disrespect and contempt for the religious other, may be overcome”, says Prof. Schmidt-Leukel. “The contributions are also concerned with thorny questions such as the difficulties of the relationship between Buddhism, Christianity and Islam in Myanmar. They were addressed and discussed at the conference in 2015 from the perspectives of the religions involved.”

Passing on the Faith

“Mission and religious education represent two basic forms of passing religion on”, explained the scholars. “We have discussed how both these forms of transfer by Christians and Buddhists are practiced in Myanmar, especially when looking at the diversity of religions in the country.” The academics analysed how Christians and Buddhists address the religious diversity in their educational work and how it is considered in the public educational system.

News Christian-Buddhist Conference in Yangon
Prof. Dr. Perry Schmidt-Leukel and Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Großhans
© Thawng Thang

The country that was known as “Burma” under British colonial rule, between Thailand and India, is marked by a large ethnic diversity. The majority of the population belongs to the religion known as Theravāda-Buddhism. According to the scholars, seven percent belong to the Christian minority, 3.6 percent to the Muslim minority and 2.6 percent to the Hindu minority, which are each connected with particular ethnic groups. In the city centre of Yangon, for example, several Buddhist temples, Hindu temples, mosques and churches are located directly in the neighbourhood.

Treatment of Religious Plurality

In their project, which is planned to span a period of three years, the academics want to identify and analyse central, theological-religious legitimisation discourses of different religions in Myanmar. On this basis, the impact of these concepts on the coexistence of different religions in public spaces as well as their connection to further socio-cultural factors will be examined. “The interlacing between ethnic and religious affiliation will be considered to the same degree as historic continuities and discontinuities”, explain the researchers. The intended central focus of the project is the empirical collection and analysis of the perspectives of Buddhist and Christian university lecturers with regard to the theoretical treatment of religious plurality in Myanmar. This part of the study is conducted by scholar of religious studies Dr. Madlen Krüger in cooperation with the MIT; she received a doctorate from Bochum University for a thesis on political Buddhism. (ill/vvm)

Note: Großhans, Hans-Peter/Ling, Samuel Ngun/Schmidt-Leukel, Perry (eds.): Buddhist and Christian Attitudes to Religious Diversity. Yangon: Ling’s Family Publications 2017.