In a piece for the Asia Research Institute, CRCC’s Nalika Gajaweera and fellow anthropologist Neena Mahadev examine how for Sinhala Buddhists, pirit recitations serve to channel Dharmic energies and intentions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The aspiration (prarthanāwa) to achieve viral inoculation through the recitations are conceived of producing a protective sonic field. But when further paired with nationalistic anxieties, the recitations can be overwrought by ideas of securitization, which appear to be charged with anti-pluralistic affects. The statist assertions of Buddhist power in Sri Lanka are engaged as sacred transmissions to act like a protective amulet against the threat of a “foreign” virus.
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Nalika Gajaweera is a senior research analyst with the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.