Tuesday, July 14, 2009
How to Behave: Buddhism and Modernity in Colonial Cambodia
This ambitious cross-disciplinary study of Buddhist modernism in colonial Cambodia breaks new ground in understanding the history and development of religion and colonialism in Southeast Asia. In How to Behave, Anne Hansen argues for the importance of Theravāda Buddhist ethics for imagining and articulating what it means to be modern in early-twentieth-century Cambodia. The 1920s in Cambodia saw an exuberant burst of new printed writings by self-described Khmer Buddhist modernists on the subject of how to behave (as good Buddhists and moral persons) and how to purify oneself in everyday life in the modern world. Hansen's book, one of the first studies of colonial Buddhism based largely on Khmer language sources, examines the modernists' questioning of Buddhist values that they deemed most important and relevant. She explores their new interpretations of traditional doctrines, how they were produced, and how they represent Southeast Asian ethical and religious responses to the modern circulation of local and translocal events, people, ideas, and anxieties.