Religious minorities in Buddhist majority states
This project by the Buddhist Federation of Norway addresses the question of religious freedom and religious minority rights in Thailand, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, in addition to Bangladesh. In these societies missionary activities, conversion, mixed marriages, family planning and religious practice in public space are all issues of potential disagreement and dispute. Together with the Oxford Centre of Buddhist Studies, leading Buddhist monks and Buddhist educational institutions, the Buddhist Federation of Norway (BFN) addresses these issues from a Buddhist point of view, fostering an intra-Buddhist dialogue concerning religious minority rights. The project is funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Aid (NORAD).
Relations between religious majority and minority populations constitute a contentious issue in several states in South and Southeast Asia. Disputes over the role of religion in public space, the use of sacred places, issues relating to conversion, and incidents of inter-communal violence are aspects of this larger issue. With increasing tensions between Buddhist majority populations and particularly Muslim minorities in these countries the issue of Buddhism and non-Buddhist religious minority rights has come into focus. Certain developments in postwar Sri Lanka, as well as increasing ethnic and religious tensions in Myanmar, suggest that Buddhist majority societies are faced with challenges relating to their relationship with religious minorities. Likewise, Buddhist minorities in Muslim majority contexts, like for example in Bangladesh, also experience difficulties in increasingly Islamized societies. In fact, Buddhist-Muslim relations are not exclusively formed in local contexts, and majority-minority religious relations are best understood from a regional perspective.
Activity and output:
This project consists of three major outputs: one preparatory workshop at the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, UK, workshops in the region and an edited book with contributions by Buddhist scholars for the international market in English, as well as translations into local languages.
Through four workshops in four different countries in the region, relevant issues concerning relations between religious majorities and minorities will be raised by high-level Buddhist monks and scholars from each country. The workshops will take place in 2014. Participants at the workshops in Asia will be invited to contribute to an edited volume concerning Buddhist perspectives on religious minority rights, to be published with an international publisher. This will be an important contribution, not only to concerned Buddhists, but also to the global debate about religious minorities and human rights.
The Buddhist Federation of Norway (BFN) is a Norwegian faith community registered in 1979. It has currently a membership of 13.600 and 14 associated Buddhist associations as members.
Egil Lothe President of Buddhist Federation of Norway since 1987. (MA religious studies University of Oslo). Head of the Norwegian Council for Religious and Life Stance Communities for 6 years. Involved in conflict resolution in Sri Lanka including an international conference in Bath UK (2002) and a BFN delegation visit to the country (2003). Also involved in Tsunami relief work in Sri Lanka. From 2000 onwards involved in project of The Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief (OC) in China. Participated in the Sino-Norwegian governmental HR dialogue for 4 years. Is a member of the executive committee of International Council of the Day of Vesak (Thailand).
Iselin Frydenlund PhD in religious studies from the University of Oslo. Frydenlund has written extensively on Buddhism and politics/peace process in Sri Lanka, as well as on religion and conflict more generally. She is research associate at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo and senior researcher at the Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO).
Project group of the BFN is constituted by members with background from countries involved in this project. It consists of Nirmala Eidsgård (Sri Lanka), Kanoknapat Suksong (Thailand) and Lwin Lwin Oo (Myanmar).