Buddhist Law in Burma: A History of Dhammasattha Texts and Jurisprudence, c. 1250–1850 CE

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Friday, March 3rd, 2017

Friday, March 3, 20174:00PM - 6:00PMDepartment for the Study of Religion
Jackman Humanities Building, 170 St. George Street, Room 318
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Southeast Asia Seminar Series; Lecture in the Arts, Histories, Literatures and Religions of Burma


THE LEGAL HISTORY OF BURMA over the course of the second millennium CE offers a series of literary, juridical, and intellectual contributions that are unique when considered in relation to the wider Buddhist world of South, Central, and East Asia. From the 13th through 19th centuries upper Burma was a regional center for the production of a distinctive genre of Buddhist legal literature known as dhammasattha (“treatise on law”), whose laws claimed jurisdiction over all members of society, including monks and laypersons, and kings, commoners, and slaves. Prose and verse dhammasattha texts were composed in Pali and vernacular languages (Burmese, Mon, Arakanese, Shan, etc.), as well as in
bilingual gloss versions (nissaya), and there is extensive testimony, dating from the mid-13th century onward, for their utilization by judges in contexts of dispute resolution. Aspects of the early history of this genre can be gleaned from lithic epigraphy, vernacular poetry, and bibliographic catalogues (piṭakat samuiṅḥ), although surviving dhammasattha treatises, transmitted in palm-leaf and paper manuscripts, can be dated no earlier than circa 1637, whereas the youngest examples of the tradition were written under British colonialism around 1900.

For the past decade Christian Lammerts has been involved in the first major study of this genre—its textual histories, laws, and shifting modes of reception and jurisprudence—on the basis of extensive fieldwork in Burma and close investigation of the epigraphic corpus and manuscript archive, which preserves hundreds of discrete texts in multiple, sometimes highly variant, versions. In this presentation Lammerts will discuss the results of this project, drawn from his forthcoming book, Buddhist Law in Burma: A History of Dhammasattha Texts and Jurisprudence, c. 1250–1850 CE (University of Hawai’I Press).

D. CHRISTIAN LAMMERTS is Assistant Professor of Buddhist and Southeast Asian Studies at Rutgers University. He is interested in the cultural and intellectual histories of Buddhism and religious law in Burma and Southeast Asia, and is currently at work on a study of
juridical curses, oaths, and ordeals around of the Bay of Bengal from the late first
millennium CE up to the early colonial era.


Rachel Ostep


Christian Lammerts
Assistant Professor, Buddhist and Southeast Asian Studies, Rutgers University


Centre for South Asian Studies

Centre for Southeast Asian Studies


Asian Institute


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