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Birma, Religion, and Social Movements
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Birma, Religion, and Social Movements


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The role of religion in social movements, taking the case study of Burma (Myanmar).

The role of religion in social movements, taking the case study of Burma (Myanmar).

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  • 2. • “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”• - Karl Marx (1844)• But is that really so?
  • 3. Structure of Presentation• Introduction• Buddhism• In Quest of Democracy• Historical Context• Monk-led 2007 Protest• Religion in social movements• Discussion
  • 4. Crash Course in Buddhism4 Noble Truths Eightfold Path  Right View• Suffering• Knowledge of Suffering  Right Intention• Abolishment of Suffering  Right Speech• Way to Abolishment of  Right Action Suffering  Right Livelihood  Right Effort  Right Mindfullness  Right Concentration
  • 5. Crash Course Buddhism IITheravada Buddhism• Monks have a high social status• 90% is Buddhist• Laypeople gain positive karma by donations  economy of merit (elaborated later)
  • 6. In Quest for DemocracySangha the sacred, the institution of BuddhismMahasmmata ruler by unanimous content of peopleKhattiya ruler of agricultural landRaja winning affection of people through observance of theDhamma virtue, justice & the law• Manifesto• by Aung San Suu Kyi• Buddhist
  • 7. In Quest for Democracy• Integrates Buddhist values with democracy & human rights• Ten Duties of Kings • Elected King or Government should adhere to this ten duties; • constitutes the legitimacy of power; • i.e. Liberality, morality, self- sacrifice, integrity, kindness, austerity, non-anger, non- violence, forbearance & non-opposition to the will of the people“Traditional values serve both to justify and todecipher popular expectations of democraticgovernment”
  • 8. Historical ContextBurma was united as a monarchy in the 11th century, ruledby devoted Buddhists• Colonial History • Anglo-Burmese wars (1824, 1852, 1885) • Policy of „divide and rule‟ } Introducing divers language systems } Favor certain (Christian) minorities Leading to long-lasting ethnic conflict – preventing a Burmese nationality
  • 9. Historical Context II• National Independence Movement • From student strikes (1935) to a revolutionary movement • Burmese Independence Army during WOII • Aung San and Independence of Burma (1948) • Underrepresentation of minorities• Military Junta (1962) • One party-system • Burmese Way to Socialism – nationalization means of production, centralization economy and no freedom of expression
  • 10. Historical Context III• 8888 Uprising • Discontent reaches crisis proportions • Democracy Summer 8/8/1988 • Alliances resistance movements • National League for Democracy (NLD)• State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC)
  • 11. Historical Context IV• Multi-party elections (1990) • House arrest Aung San Suu Kyi • SLORC refuses to acknowledge victory of the NLD • Roadmap to democracy
  • 12. 2007 Protests – causes, goals and events • Spring 2007 – boycott against the oppressive regime • Protesting the economic hardship • September 2007 – protesting violence against monks
  • 13. 2007 Protests – causes, goals and events• 17-27 September 2007 • Big protests in Yangon and Mandalay to end military regime and economic policy• 26 & 27 September 2007 • Breaking the hope  crackdown by the military regime
  • 14. 2007 Protest – Why the Monks?• Moral Authority• Economy of merit
  • 15. 2007 Protest – Strategy & Tactics• Boycotting Donations • From members of military government and their families • “Pattan nikkujana kamma” • Is considered as a big disgrace• Infrastructural Advantage • Usage of religious sites as safe-houses and rally points • Established organizational resources• Religious Practice • Use of established Buddhist chants/practice to protest • Religious practice as alternative public sphere
  • 16. 2007 Protest – The Aftermath• Short-term • Battle lost  hopes crushed • Raised consciousness of alternatives• Long-term • Making progress • Elections
  • 17. Religion – Oppressive or Disruptive• Often sided with oppressive regimes • Marx saying it is opium might be true, but is very limited• Paul said: Abide the government as it is God sent • But then it can be argued Jesus was an activist all his life • More universal for other religious traditions• Multiple examples • Iranian Revolution, PXUSA, Liberation Theology, Nepal, Civil Rights, Burma
  • 18. Religion – Assets• Transcedental motivation • Morals from the absolute • Rituals and icons bind & give perserverence • Self-discipline• Organizational resources • Trained leaders in organization • Existing communication• Shared Identity • Group forming • On several levels
  • 19. Religion - Assets• Social and Geographical composition • Cuts through more traditional social class demarcation lines • Geographically dispersed• Privileged Legitimacy • Often gained special status through history and beliefs • Repsected as open space  sanctuary• Strategy • More involved in non-violent direct action than secular groups!
  • 20. Discussion – no.1• Do the Buddhists values promote actions or inaction? Disruption or Apathy? • What about other religions?
  • 21. Discussion – no.2• Do religions promote critical thinking & questioning of authority?
  • 22. Discussion – no.3• What motivates you to be an activist or to care about others/state of the world? • Are small victories needed to keep us going or is intrinsic moral righteousness more important? • “People say of us we do not win, but we stand strong” -PXUSA
  • 23. Discussion – no.4• What would have happened in 2007 if the robes would have been blue? And what if it were more lila?
  • 24. Discussion no.5• Is there a lack of moral lessons in our education system? • Or do we still get these lessons even though the church attendance is in decline? Or where to get/are we supposed to get this moral framework? • Buddhists values instilled through education system?