Steven Kemper on Anagarika Dharmapala: A New Study

Steven Kemper: Rescued from the Nation: Anagarika Dharmapala and the Buddhist World, University of Chicago Press,  2015

Anagarika Dharmapala is one of the most galvanizing figures in Sri Lanka’s recent turbulent history. He is widely regarded as the nationalist hero who saved the Sinhala people from cultural collapse and whose “protestant” reformation of Buddhism drove monks toward increased political involvement and ethnic confrontation. Yet as tied to Sri Lankan nationalism as Dharmapala is in popular memory, he spent the vast majority of his life abroad, engaging other concerns. In Rescued from the Nation, Steven Kemper reevaluates this important figure in the light of an unprecedented number of his writings, ones that paint a picture not of a nationalist zealot but of a spiritual seeker earnest in his pursuit of salvation.

Drawing on huge stores of source materials—nearly one hundred diaries and notebooks—Kemper reconfigures Dharmapala as a world-renouncer first and a political activist second. Following Dharmapala on his travels between East Asia, South Asia, Europe, and the United States, he traces his lifelong project of creating a unified Buddhist world, recovering the place of the Buddha’s Enlightenment, and imitating the Buddha’s life course. The result is a needed corrective to Dharmapala’s embattled legacy, one that resituates Sri Lanka’s political awakening within the religious one that was Dharmapala’s life project. 

“Kemper’s book is a pleasure. Dharmapala was one of the key figures in the pan-Asian movements to revive Buddhism during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and Kemper offers intriguing details about his contributions that complicate our understanding of the Sinhalese native as he engaged with the Theosophists, British colonial officers, Bengali intellectuals, and even Japanese clergy. His book is a major contribution and will surely become the most-referenced work on Dharmapala.” … says Tansen Sen, Baruch College, City University of New York

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  • Island news Item: “Minister Amunugama honored for his book on Anagarika Dharmapala,” 17 article_image
    Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama was presented an award at the 2017 State Literary Awards for his highly-acclaimed recent book ‘Lion’s Roar’, based on the life and times of Anagarika Dharmapala. He received the award under the ‘special work written in English’ category. Dr. Amunugama is an accomplished writer, critic, lyric writer and poet. He has produced the anthology ‘Hada thula aasaa’’  and is the author of several other prestigious works such as ‘Maname mathakwee’, ‘Sanskrutiya, ‘Samaajaya haa Parisaraya’ and ‘Anthima Satana’. He is a researcher and a litterateur who has contributed over the decades to local and foreign journals and research publications.

  • Tissa Devendra: “Reading Amunugama’s Study of Anagārika Dharmapala in LION’S ROAR,” 31 August 2016,

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