Communal sense. Practices of We-Formation and Ethno-Religious Othering in Myanmar (Judith Beyer)

Ethnographic research on relations between the religions in Myanmar has hitherto largely focused on the conflicts between the Buddhist majority and the Christian minorities in the northern regions or the struggles of Buddhists and Muslims in the western coastal and border region. In contrast, urban relationships and interactions even in the former capital Yangon in the south of the country have rarely been investigated. My project aims to fill this gap and examines the strategies that Muslims, Hindus, and Christians have developed to safeguard their communities vis-à-vis the state, the city administration, the neighborhood and other individual actors. The particular focus lies not on religious practice as such, but on people’s self-understanding as a community, on their inward and outward presentation as a community, as well as on the central role that their religious buildings (churches, mosques, temples) in the city center of Yangon have come to play in this context. These non-Buddhist religious communities in Yangon have to actively claim their right to exist as communities in the public space, which also protects them from state and private investors, whose new financial interests in Yangon has raised land and property prices to the level of Bangkok and beyond. How these communities go about safeguarding themselves and their possessions is the focus of my research. The challenges they are faced with in the context of Yangon is exemplified by the newly adopted “Race and Religion Laws”, which aim at discriminating against non-Buddhist groups and demonstrate the current ethno-nationalist climate in the country. These laws do not only concern people’s different ethnicity and religion: It is crucial to see them in the wider context of social and demographic change, rural-urban migration, a housing crisis as well as a general lack in legal security as well as the overall precariousness a large part of urban residents find themselves in.