A Buddhist studies scholar in Missouri State has chosen Sri Lanka as the first destination to study Buddhism.
Stephen Berkwitz, a professor of religious studies at Missouri State University, originally hails from Minnesota has long harbored an interest in Asia. Once his studies turned to Buddhism, instead of focusing on the arguably more familiar Zen or Tibetan traditions, Berkwitz was drawn to Theravada Buddhism due to its long history and conservative orientation.
“That combination I find intriguing — that commitment to preserving an ideal against pressures to change,” he said. “Sri Lanka is particularly dedicated toward that preservation ethos. Its close connection to India also gives it a distinctive development compared to other forms of Buddhism”, the Professor said.
According to a story by Don Hendricks, director of university communications at Missouri State University, Professor Berkwitz’s recent book, “Buddhist Poetry and Colonialism: Alagiyavanna and the Portuguese in Sri Lanka,” explores the tumultuous change one poet experienced as Sri Lanka was colonized by the Portuguese. The verses of poetry translated in the book provide a window into the tremendous religious and cultural transformations of the early 17th century, when Europeans and Asian Buddhists sustained and intensified exchanges. The story by Hendricks was published in newsleader.com recently.
Berkwitz began the research for this book in 2005, attained a Fulbright scholarship to continue the research, learned to read Sinhala poetry and the Portuguese languages and spent seven months in Sri Lanka. He also received a Visiting Research Fellowship to Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany in 2011-12. During that time, he made several research trips to Portugal to study the colonizer’s views of Buddhism.
During his fellowship in Germany, Berkwitz further explored the Portuguese encounter with Buddhism in Asia.