In this important contribution to both the study of South Asian Buddhism as well the burgeoning field of Buddhist modernity, Anne Blackburn‘s Locations of Buddhism: Colonialism and Modernity in Sri Lanka (The University of Chicago Press, 2010) discusses the life and times of the Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Hikkaḍuvē Sumaṅgala (1827-1911). Coming of age during a time when the British had consolidated colonial rule over the island following centuries of colonial contacts with the Dutch and Portuguese, Hikkaḍuvē Sumaṅgala rose to a position of high authority within the monastic sangha while negotiating several spheres of influence. From engaging in Buddhist-Christian debates and supporting new lay-monastic organizations and corresponding with interested European and American scholars, Hikkaḍuvē Sumaṅgala was deeply engaged in the development of Sri Lankan Buddhism during British colonial rule.
Additionally, Prof. Blackburn’s book addresses some larger methodological and theoretical issues that have puzzled Buddhist scholars for some decades. Such terms as “Protestant Buddhism” and “Buddhist modernism” have been at times useful for researchers attempting to understand how Buddhism developed in the modern era and reacted to colonial contacts. However, these terms have also been used at times imprecisely, applied to a widely disparate set of Buddhisms and Buddhists thus obscuring more than they reveal. Locations of Buddhism raises important questions about how we, as scholars, study Buddhism during the colonial period and points toward new vistas and horizons for further research. It is a valuable contribution to the field.