USC Dornsife College Of Letters Arts and Sciences

University of Southern California

Dr. Nalika Gajaweera was a research anthropologist at the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California through 2023. Her specializations are in the anthropology of religion, with a specific interest in the intersections of Buddhism, race, ethno-nationalism and gender. She has studied these issues most in-depth in the context of Sri Lanka and the United States.

Her current project focuses on documenting the struggles, experiences and practices of ethnic and racial minority leadership within North-American meditation-based insight institutions, and their efforts to confront issues of race, racism and whiteness within these institutions. Transforming the America Sangha, or TAS, is a three-year research initiative supported by a $500,000 grant from the Kataly Foundation.

Gajaweera earned her M.A and Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of California, Irvine. Her doctoral research examined how Buddhist ethics and practices of giving shaped Sri Lankan local NGOs doing humanitarianism work in the context of two disasters: the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 and ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka that ended in 2009. Prior to graduate school, Gajaweera was a Fulbright Fellow in India and a recipient of the Richter International Fellowship to the UK. She received her B.A from Occidental College.

She has consulted international aid agencies on issues of Buddhism, ethno-religious violence and religious pluralism in Sri Lanka. Her teaching interests are religion and humanitarianism, anthropology of Buddhism, and spirituality and resilience.

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Nalika Gajaweera