Since the end of the civil war in 2009, Sri Lanka has attracted significant volumes of foreign investment. The vast majority of this investment has come from Chinese companies, which have committed loans amounting to over US$ 7 billion so far. Much of this investment has been used to finance large-scale infrastructure projects, including the flagship Port City Colombo, the Magampura Mahinda Rajapakse Port in Hambantota, and the Colombo-Katunayake Expressway – widely reported to be “the most expensive highway in the world”. Whilst these investments have been well-received by Sri Lanka’s political elite, popular (and international) opinion suggests that most, if not all, of these infrastructure projects are white elephants designed to line the pockets of corrupt politicians whilst eroding Sri Lankan sovereignty and consolidating Chinese geostrategic power in the Indian Ocean.
At a more everyday level, these projects have caused widespread environmental degradation – notably amongst coastal fishermen and their families – and have come to symbolise the transition in the post-war years towards an uneasy vision of what Sri Lankan modernity might hold for local communities. Against this backdrop of rapid socio-political, material and environmental change, this project will explore the responses of Sri Lanka’s religious communities to these infrastructure projects specifically, and the challenges of Sri Lankan modernity more generally. In particular, it will consider how religious groups work with and against the communities most affected by these infrastructure projects, how they are evolving in response to Sri Lankan modernity, and how they renegotiate their place in public life. In doing so, this project will unravel the parallels and paradoxes that sit at the nexus of religion, infrastructure and society in contemporary Sri Lanka.
“Infrastructure’s (supra)sacralising effects: Contesting littoral spaces of fishing, faith and futurity along Sri Lanka’s western coastline”
Target journal: Annals of the Association of American Geographers
“The world is laughing at us because they make harbour in the country, they make city in the sea”: Infrastructural conduits, territorial inversions and the slippages of sovereignty in Sino-Sri Lankan development narratives”
Target journal: Political Geography
“Sri Lanka’s (im)mobile religious economy: Buddhist territorialism, evangelical universalism and the enduring paradox of place”
Target journal: Sociology of Religion
Target journal: Social & Cultural Geography