Burmese Buddhist monks have featured in the news quite a lot in recent times, not as peaceful practitioners of self-abnegation, but at activists at...

Burmese Buddhist monks have featured in the news quite a lot in recent times, not as peaceful practitioners of self-abnegation, but at activists at the forefront of political movements characterized as comprising of a new kind of religious nationalism. For anyone confused by this phenomenon, and wondering how the religious thought of Buddhist monks and laypeople in Myanmar informs and motivates political action, Matthew J. Walton‘s much awaited Buddhism, Politics and Political Thought in Myanmar (Cambridge University Press, 2017) is essential reading. Drawing on years of research and relying predominantly on Burmese language sources, Walton throughout the book presents Burmese Buddhist political ideas in a manner that is at once intelligible to readers outside the tradition but also true to the logics internal to a distinctive moral universe. After offering a concise intellectual and political history, he patiently sets out the doctrinal building blocks with which to build a comparative theory of political order and freedom. In doing so, he also lays the foundations for an understanding of how and why conceptions and practices of democracy in Myanmar today might not correspond to those of deductive political science or international aid programs, but nevertheless be internally intelligible and coherent to their intended audience.

Matthew Walton joins New Books in Southeast Asian Studies to talk about Buddhist ideas of political participation and social welfare, interpretive plasticity, politics and the political, Hobbes, the hybrid political thought of Aung San Suu Kyi, and the intellectual legacy of Gustaaf Houtman.


Nick Cheesman is a fellow at the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University and in 2016-17 a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. He can be reached at [email protected]

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