- Editor's Note
Welcome to the first issue of The Journal of Burma Studies (JBS) for 2019! The issue promises a tour de force of ethnographic, historical, and artistic insight into religious practice and cultural expression. In addition to research articles, there is a reflection on fieldwork and methodology as well as an engagement with a recent post on social media, which corroborates a finding from a previous JBS article, and finally a few reviews of recently published books in the field.
In his article, "Making Merit, Making Civil Society: Free Funeral Service Societies and Merit-Making in Contemporary Myanmar," Mu-Lung Hsu carefully considers the ways in which the Free Funeral Service Societies have emerged not only as a unique space for civil society but also as a context in which there is a laicized economy of merit, which does not discriminate in terms of race or religion. The Free Funeral Service Societies, therefore, are able to form a network that transgresses other significant boundaries of social identity in contemporary Myanmar. It also suggests that there can be an economy of merit outside of the control of the sangha.
Stepping back in history to consider how religious practitioners traveled in the region, and were recognized by regimes at the confluence of indigenous kingdoms and colonial states, D. Mitra Barua examines the biography of Sangharaja Saramedha, an Arakanese monk who remarkably had received special titles from the British colonial government, the Chakma court of Chittagong, as well as the Burmese kingdom. Through this history, the article offers substantial new insight to the nature of political power across these borderlands, considering the ways in which various regimes sought to garner political prestige and legitimacy by associating and recognizing the Buddhist righteousness that the monk represented.
Caroline Ha Thuc, in her discussion of a recent portrait installation, The Name, describes how historical research and [End Page iii] historiographic questions can inform the process of art production. Going against the oft-repeated notion of art as a "reflection" of society, the installation entices the possibility that artists themselves can create new modes of knowledge production, potentially challenging nationalist narratives of history.
Kristina Simion's reflective research essay on qualitative methods will be useful for present and future researchers seeking how to code structural roles in software like In vivo; with the fieldwork, and eventual analysis, the coding dilemma is hardly neutral—the reliability of the analysis often crucially depends not only on how interlocutors will identify themselves but also on whether those identities become coded by the researcher managing the data set. There can be an important difference between official position and the set of roles that an individual might fulfill on a day-to-day basis.
In his lively contribution to our Scholarly Curiosity section, "Smoke, No Fire," Richard M. Cooler compares a fascinating discovery from a post on social media, which corroborated some conclusions regarding a non-canonical Buddha image in the Burma Art Collection at Northern Illinois University. Excitingly, when an incense cone is placed at the base of the image, the whiff of smoke will be drawn upward into the image itself, ultimately producing an aura of smoke around the image itself. It is featured on the cover of this issue of JBS.
Finally, our Book Reviews section includes three recently published monographs on history, politics, and literary production. We thank you for your continued interest in—and support for—JBS. [End Page iv]