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British observers were nearly united in finding Buddhism to be one of the most conspicuous features of Burma.1 Buddhism might well be regarded as one of the country’s picturesque signifiers as the title of Gwendolen Trench Gascoigne’s Among Pagodas and Fair Ladies (1896) suggests. Nonetheless, British assessments of Buddhism (which included its relationship with nat worship) diverged beyond these most basic considerations. This chapter will exhibit some of the range of this divergence: Nisbet and Talbot Kelly wondered about Buddhism’s durability in the face of modernity and Christian missions. Taw Sein Ko, himself a committed Buddhist, understood the religion to be one of the cornerstones (the British empire was another) for the successful modernization of Burma. In contrast, Harold Fielding-Hall followed Sir George Scott and wrote from a Burmaphilic position to enable their readers (both colonial and metropolitan) to understand the appealing and humanistic side of the religion. The chapter will call attention to British converts to Buddhism and end with considerations that while many of these figures were publishing, the YMBA was born. At the same time, despite the fact that Buddhism was part of the Burmascape in that for all Britons it helped to signify Burma, the British were not alert to ways in which the religion itself was being transformed by developments in the 19th century.
KeywordsReligious Practice Moral Life British Rule British Empire Buddhist Education
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