• Font size:
  • Decrease
  • Reset
  • Increase

The Scourge of Poverty and Proselytism Breeding Religious Conflict in Sri Lanka



Link to Publication

This book written by Dr. Kalinga Seneviratne is the result of the research project, The Scourge of Poverty and Proselytism Breeding Religious Conflict in Sri Lanka, supported by The World Buddhist University, Bangkok, Thailand. The book has presented various aspects of the problems and conflicts among religious groups in Sri Lanka. It is a significant contribution towards bringing clarity to the recent complex situation, and reflects the socio-economic and cultural challenges facing Buddhist communities in Sri Lanka - Dr. Tavivat Puntarigvivat, Director, Institute of Research and Development, The World Buddhist University, Bangkok, Thailand



Socio-Economic and Cultural Challenges Facing

Buddhist Communities in Asia: A Case Study of Sri Lanka

By Dr Kalinga Seneviratne assisted by Ms Samanmalee Swarnalatha

This recently published report commissioned by the Bangkok-based World Buddhist University (WBU) focuses on socio-economic and cultural challenges facing Buddhist communities in Asia with a case study of Sri Lanka. This study is designed to give an insight into the challenges facing grassroots Buddhist communities in Sri Lanka which the regional and international media is ignorant about at best and wishes to ignore or misrepresent at worse. 

Buddhists may be numerically superior within Sri Lanka with 70% of the population designated as Buddhists living among Hindus (about 15%), Christians (about 8%) and Muslims (about 8%). But, Buddhists also make up a majority of the poor especially in rural areas, while most Christians and Muslims are economically more empowered.

In the 21st century, Buddhists’ (and also Hindus’) poverty has become a huge reservoir for two religious forces to exploit – Evangelical (or Pentecostal) Christians from the West and South Korea, and Wahhabi Islamists mainly supported by Saudi Arabia. Both these movements have huge financial resources at its disposal.

These two powerful forces have been rapidly infiltrating Buddhist communities across Sri Lanka (Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand as well)  who are feeling helpless because their own government is not helping them economically.

It has become fashionable for the international media and some Buddhist leaders and Buddhist groups in East Asia and the West to criticise Buddhists in these countries when they take direct action to defend their communities, without trying to understand the socio-economic situations that are giving rise to this.

The research for the report ‘The Scourge of Poverty and Proselytism’ was done in Sri Lanka in 2015 with financial assistance from the WBU to create a database on this problem in Sri Lanka to dispel ignorance.

A survey was undertaken of all the reports done since independence on the status of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and why no government has taken action on the recommendations to empower Buddhists to overcome the discrimination of the colonial era. A contents survey of how Sri Lankan Buddhists have been misrepresented in the international media was also done focusing on the reporting of the activities of Bodu Bala Sena between 2012 and 2014.

The research also looked at Buddhist social services that function with very little assistance from abroad, and why they are unable to counter activities of Christian and Islamic evangeical groups who have huge financial resources from overseas to target Buddhists for conversions exploiting their poverty.

This report also shows how Buddhist groups such as Bodu Bala Sena was exploited by countries like Norway, and Sri Lanka’s own government at the time. This is a group that started with a noble intention of socio-economically empowering the grassroots Buddhists with skills training, but ended up being misled into violent street actions and labelled as “extremists”.

The report’s conclusions and recommendation includes an urgent need for a well coordinated international Buddhist charity – similar to the Catholic World Vision - to help empower these grassroots Buddhist communities; strict monitoring of NGO funding from overseas; need for a Community Harmony Bill (not an Anti-Conversion Bill); strict zoning laws to control ‘illegal’ construction of churches, mosques and temples; and concerted efforts by the Buddhists to convince other religious minorities that Sri Lanka’s unique and rich Buddhist heritage belongs to all Sri Lankans.

This report will be a good resource, especially for media practitioners to understand the socio-economics of religious conflicts in Asia today, and gather wisdom on the fact that religious conflicts are not necessarily based on statistics.

For more information Please contact Dr Kalinga Seneviratne on email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone +66 971530430.



Setting up of this website was sponsored by SJ Mets Consultants PTY Ltd of Perth, Australia in memory of J.H.A. Gunadasa & S.T. Jayasinghe, beloved fathers of Sunil and Aruni.
May they attain Nibbana