The Cunning of Legal Pluralism: On Unity and Multiplicity in Buddhist Law


Event details

PSC Seminar

Date & time

Thursday 12 March 2020


PSC Reading Room 4.27, Hedley Bull Centre (130), Garran Road, ANU
ANU Canberra


Ben Schonthal


Maxine McArthur

This seminar is co-hosted by the Centre for Law, Arts and the Humanities, ANU College of Law, and the South Asia Research Institute, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific

Contrasting themes of normative unity and multiplicity dominate scholarship on legal pluralism. However, these themes are not simply artefacts of academic analysis, nor are they value free. Assertions of legal singularity and plurality also appear in the very texts and ideologies of the sub-state legal systems that scholars study. In this talk, I examine this fact, along with its methodological consequences, by highlighting conceits of unity and multiplicity as they operate within Buddhist monastic law in ancient Southern Asia and modern Sri Lanka. Drawing on Buddhist legal texts in Sri Lanka’s main vernacular language of Sinhala as well as the Theravāda Buddhist liturgical language in Pāli, I highlight competing theories of legal monism and pluralism operating within traditions of Theravāda Buddhist law.

About the Speaker
Benjamin Schonthal is Associate Professor of Buddhism and Asian Religions and Associate Dean (International) for the Humanities Division at the University of Otago in New Zealand. Schonthal’s research examines the intersections of religion, law and politics South and Southeast Asia, with a special focus on Buddhism and law. Schonthal is the author of Buddhism, Politics, and the Limits of Law (Cambridge University Press 2016) and a variety of scholarly articles in journals such as The Journal of Asian Studies, Modern Asian Studies, Journal of the American Academy of Religions, and the International Journal of Constitutional Law. His current research project, supported by the Royal Society of New Zealand, looks at the development and diversity of Buddhist legal systems as they developed in nineteenth- and twentieth–century South and Southeast Asia.

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