Religious Change in the Last Buddhist Kingdom
- ISBN: 9780231199858
- Published By: Columbia University Press
- Published: June 2023
In July 1813, a young American couple from Boston arrived in Rangoon to preach the gospel. Celebrated in the Protestant press, which ran dramatic accounts of exotic adventures, the attempt to convert the Burmese met with mixed results. Although Burmese Buddhists resisted Christian evangelism, people from minority communities were baptized in large numbers throughout the nineteenth century. American Baptist Christianity was itself transformed in the Buddhist kingdom. Missionaries who were initially horrified by what they saw as the idolatry of Buddha statues found themselves creating tree shrines and their converts hanging colorful Jesus paintings in their churches.
Baptizing Burma explores the history of how the American Baptist mission to Burma failed to convert the country yet succeeded in transforming its religious landscape. Alexandra Kaloyanides examines how the Burmese majority positioned Buddhism to counter Christianity, how marginalized groups took on Baptist identities, and how Protestantism was reimagined as a Southeast Asian religion. She considers a series of holy objects to reveal the mechanics of religious practice in a period of entangled empires—British, Burmese, and American. By telling stories of four key things—the sacred book, the school house, the pagoda, and the portrait—this book illuminates the histories of Burma’s last kingdom and the unexpected consequences of America’s first overseas mission.