Hoisted by their Own Petard: The Emergence of Sri Lankan Buddhist Printing and Counter-Christian Activities

  • Ann-Kathrin Bretfeld-Wolf Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Keywords: Pali Buddhism, Sri Lanka, printing press, oral literature, Vaṃsa literature


This contribution describes the emergence of print technology in Sri Lanka and the role it played in shaping modern Sri Lankan Buddhism, as exemplified by the case study of the textual transmission of the Mahāvaṃsa, a chronicle of the history of Sri Lanka. The first part is devoted to a description of the reception of this work in the European scholarly tradition, followed by a brief examination of the interaction of oral and manuscript transmission of Buddhist texts in pre-modern Sri Lankan Buddhist culture and society. Vaṃsa literature can be seen as a product of the change from orality to writing. The establishment of printing culture in the nineteenth century however changed the status of this type of literature. The rediscovery of vaṃsa literature by European scholars caused a change in the reception and use of this genre in Sri Lanka. Thus, in recent times vaṃsas are seen as historical literature and play an important part in Sinhala Nationalism.


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Author Biography

Ann-Kathrin Bretfeld-Wolf, Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Ann-Kathrin Bretfeld-Wolf is a PhD Candidate at the Department of  Philosophy and Religious Studies at the NTNU Trondheim, Norway. Her main  interests are Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, Material Religion and Spatial Approaches to the Study of Religion. She was  trained in German and Religious Studies at the Ruhr-University Bochum,  Germany.


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