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Toward a Comparative Study of Religious Orders and Networks in Southern Asia


The multidisciplinary study of transregional networks has seen remarkable growth over recent decades. Following approaches developed by Fernand Braudel in his path-breaking work on the Mediterranean world,1 scholars have developed an impressive body of work on the longue durée economic and social histories of other regions.2 Work along such lines on the complex seascapes and shorescapes connecting diverse parts of southern Asia—including the major contributions by K. N. Chaudhuri and Patricia Risso for the medieval and early modern periods as well as those by Thomas Metcalf, Sugata Bose, and Sunil Amrith for the modern—has done much to map out major dynamics of trade and state relations across the Indian Ocean.3 The work of Anthony Reid, Denys Lombard, Janet Abu-Lughod, and Roderich Ptak has added important dimensions to our understanding of the integrated histories of the eastern end of the Indian Ocean world and its connections to the South China Sea through the waters of the Indonesian archipelago.4


Against this background, other scholars working in diverse fields of history have sought to uncover new data and highlight its relevance for understanding varied modes of connectivity across South and Southeast Asia.5 To date, they have mined rich sources for identifying connections and tracking commodities, individuals, and ideas along complex paths crisscrossing the region. Students of the history of religions have also been active on parallel fronts in recent years, making considerable advances in mapping shifting pathways and patterns of connection along maritime and land routes that linked the members of religious communities across Asia and beyond.6 The wealth of data brought to light by 2these studies makes it clear that for centuries modes of transregional connection played an important role in shaping local communities, their patterns of religious practice, and their forms of collective identification.

At the same time, however, such richly detailed examinations of particular networks have tended toward a significant degree of specialization, mapping the transregional movement of individuals and institutions within frameworks of particular communities and diasporas. These analyses have rarely been developed in substantial communication with adjacent fields or through a comparative orientation involving more than one religious tradition. This volume demonstrates the benefit of collaboration between scholars in the fields of Islamic studies and Buddhist studies. By highlighting points of structural and chronological comparison and contrast, this comparative exercise on Buddhist and Islamic networks and institutions allows for critical reflections on the conceptual frameworks used across different fields in the comparative history of religions. As we have pursued our work in this direction during recent years, we have found our approach to comparison resonant with that elaborated in the recent work of Peter van der Veer, who argues that “comparison should be conceived not primarily in terms of comparing societies or events, or institutional arrangements across societies, although this is important, but as a reflection on our conceptual framework as well as on the history of interactions that have constituted our object of study.”7 This volume as a whole demonstrates the ways in which developing robust comparison between analogous developments in Buddhist and Islamic traditions can be mutually illuminating for both fields of study.

Historians of Buddhism and of Islam can both benefit from a more substantial engagement with the work being pursued by their counterparts. Such engagement, however, requires shared awareness of the scholarly conversations within each subfield—something that we as editors have tried to develop through our collaboration on this volume. The contributions to this volume focus on one category of comparative analysis, that of religious “orders,” with a geographic focus on the region of Southern Asia in which Buddhism and Islam have had a long and substantial presence. The comparative exercises collected in the volume help us to better appreciate the historical dynamics involved in the ongoing reconfiguration of Buddhist lineages and Sufi “brotherhoods.” Some of these studies direct attention toward the roles of polities in patronage of religious networks and their localization in specific settings, revealing patterns shared across Islamic and Buddhist contexts. Others point the way toward a comparatively informed periodization of changes in the character of orders and their relationship to wider communities within the traditions of Islam and Buddhism. Moreover, by developing exemplary cases from three different Buddhist “subtraditions,” oriented respectively toward authoritative texts in Classical Chinese, Classical Tibetan, and Pali, and characterized by strikingly different institutional arrangements, this volume underscores the fruitfulness of intra-Buddhist comparison across thematic axes. All chapters draw attention 3to the fact that networked persons in both traditions were not always strongly institutionalized; members of Buddhist lineages and Islamic ṭuruq often moved through the Southern Asian region and developed local bases without being involved in complex corporate organizations.


The terminology of religious orders, derived from Christian religious traditions, has been deployed within the academic study of religion to identify forms of association among religious specialists across diverse traditions. These lines of scholarly discussion are situated within a long legacy of scholarship in which Christian traditions have provided not only foundational categories, but also implicit bases for comparison in the academic study of religion. This volume deliberately attempts to develop a different kind of comparative exercise, working across two non-Christian traditions—Islam and Buddhism—while paying close attention to the diverse and historically contingent forms of institutionalized association in which religious specialists participated.

The idea of orders has been central to discussion of Islam and its diverse traditions of Sufi lineage. Although the term “Sufism” has been used by modern scholars with reference to things ranging from metaphysics and poetry to ritual practice and technologies of invulnerability, discussion of Sufi orders focuses more specifically on mechanisms for the transmission of teachings in a lineage associated with a particular “master” (Arabic shaykh; Persian pir). The Arabic term frequently translated as “order” or “brotherhood” here, ṭarīqa (pl. ṭuruq), might more literally be rendered as “path” or “way.” By the twelfth century, however, it had emerged as a technical term for more formalized lineages of authority, often identified posthumously with an eponymous founder.8 Mark Sedgwick has cautioned against assumptions about institutional continuity that Christian models of religious orders might encourage when looking comparatively at other traditions. In particular, he highlights the extent to which Sufi orders have historically remade themselves in diverse forms through cyclical dynamics of disruption and stabilization.9 This dynamic history of internal Sufi reconfigurations complicates simplistic comparisons with more institutionalized forms of Christian monasticism.

The institutional dimensions of Sufi orders have nevertheless sometimes been overplayed in modern scholarship on the early history of Sufism. As Nile Green has recently argued against such overdetermined images of orders, “while some aspects of these mechanisms were organizational and corporate in the sense that the term brotherhood usually suggests, they were both enabled by and subject to the intangible but ultimately more weighty operations of tradition as a conceptual and symbolic mechanism. We should not then expect the brotherhoods … [of the early period] to comprise complex organizations with card-carrying members and efficient managerial hierarchies.”104

Indeed, more fluid structures for the transmission of Sufi traditions have proved remarkably resilient as mechanisms for connecting Muslims across both time and space. Marshall Hodgson powerfully highlighted the importance of Sufi orders (alongside the mechanisms of Islamic legal scholarship) as one of the primary means by which a rapidly expanding Islamic world maintained a degree of integration despite the political fragmentation of the post-Abbasid period.11 More recently, an increasing number of scholars have expanded on the importance of ṭuruq in the formation of networks linking far-flung regions of the Muslim world from West Africa to Southeast Asia. For example, in an essay on “transregional interactions,” John Voll, drawing on the terminology of Christopher Bayly, has discussed Sufi orders as a prime example of “archaic globalizers.”12 Neither of these two authors, however, went into great detail on exactly how ṭuruq actually functioned in this capacity or attempted to situate these aspects of Sufi orders in comparison to contemporaneous formations of religious networks within other traditions.

Scholars of Buddhism have likewise devoted attention to associational groups involved in the internal differentiation and expansion of the tradition. Foundational works on Buddhist history made explicit use of the term “order” to refer to the Buddhist monastic community (saṅgha), revealing an implicit conceptual debt to studies of Christianity among an early generation of scholars.13 Over the course of the twentieth century, a variety of other terms came into use among scholars of Buddhism. The terms used to refer to more narrowly delineated associational groups of textual and ritual specialists—who may be monastic or nonmonastic—include “order,” “fraternity,” “school,” “sect,” and “lineage.”14 Such terms figure in scholarly accounts of the historical and geographic expansion of Buddhism across Asia, with emphasis on the role played by textual and ritual specialists in channeling selected philosophical/doctrinal positions, textual corpora, and potent ritual practices across the region—often in symbiotic relationships with commercial, military, and administrative elites.15

Across its diverse usages within Buddhist and Islamic studies, the concept of an “order” has encompassed a range of broadly shared features identified among many scholars working within these distinct subfields of the academic study of religion. Prominent among these features are conceptions of lineage or genealogy. In the case of Islam, the Sufi ṭarīqa, structured according to a lineage of religious authority (Ar. silsila) comprises one of a number of forms of defining tradition grounded in the teachings of the Prophet. Sufi genealogies structured according to silsila and the Sufi orders (Ar. ṭuruq) that came to be built around them developed alongside other, parallel mechanisms for the transmission of tradition, including those of ḥadīth scholarship focused on “chains of transmission” (Ar. isnād, pl. asānid) and the established schools (Ar. madhhab, pl. madhāhib) of Islamic jurisprudence.

There are likewise plural conceptions of lineage within Buddhist traditions. Buddhist textual and ritual specialists identify themselves and are identified 5by others in relation to both ordination lines and bonds of teacher-student relationships, including links formed through the transmission of specific ritual (including meditation) techniques. Buddhist monastics (both male and female) undergo an ordination ritual that emplots the ordinand within Buddhist institutional and associational space. The ritual location of ordination itself indicates the ordinand’s participation within a distinctive subsector of the Buddhist monastic establishment within a particular polity or geographic region, usually one to which the ordinand has gained access through his or her primary teacher. The ordinand is also understood to stand within a lineage relationship to the preceptor (upajjhāya/upajjhāyā), who presents the candidate for ordination. Historically, it was common for Buddhist monastics to study with multiple teachers, before and subsequent to their ordination. Teachers and students could thus report their place within their lineages in a number of ways, providing an extremely flexible means of expressing intellectual and material inheritance, loyalty, and other bonds.

The breadth and flexibility of such teacher-student bonds and lineage claims characterized nonmonastic teacher-student networks as well. Especially in the Himalayan and Central Asian worlds of Vajrayāna Buddhism, but also elsewhere in Asia, nonmonastic textual and ritual specialists typically studied and forged ritual bonds with more than one teacher, generating a broad and flexible web of lineage relationships as well as nested forms of collective identification. In relation to the transregional mobilities examined within this volume, it is important to recognize that the claim to—and recognition of—participation within a shared Buddhist lineage could facilitate (often in very practical material ways) the movement of Buddhists across geographic space. For instance, lineage claims (and sometimes documents affirming them) were shaped by the acceptance of Buddhist travelers within new geographic and Buddhist institutional domains as well as the success of diplomatic projects originating from state centers. Where Buddhists competed with one another for recognition, social authority, and material well-being, especially at geographic frontiers and/ or in rapidly changing political environments, the ability to be recognized as a participant within a well-recognized, historically venerable Buddhist lineage could be central to success. As Amy Holmes-Tagchungdharpa’s chapter shows powerfully, many factors contributed to such recognition.

Those connected to such lineages are also distinguished by particular patterns of practice and aesthetic markers that are constitutive signs of belonging within these genealogical traditions. For example, Buddhist ritual and textual specialists are often distinguished from one another visually by vestment practices, according to which ordination and other forms of teacher-student lineages are identified through patterns of robe wearing, and the use of sartorial accessories. Indeed, competition among Buddhist textual and ritual specialists—both monastic and nonmonastic—has often been expressed centrally through a discourse linking ways of dressing to hierarchies of purity and authority. In 6such contexts, disputes over appropriate dress are closely linked to an evaluation of specialists’ comportment and their right to occupy positions within eminent and powerful Buddhist institutional establishments.16 Although historically members of some Sufi orders have sometimes been distinguished by particular styles and colors of robes and headdress, such visual markers of adherence to a particular lineage have been relatively less pronounced in Islamic traditions. Rather, attachment to different orders has tended to be most clearly marked in the performance of specific forms of ritual practice, such as in preferences for particular forms of vocal or silent performance of the ritual remembrance of God (dhikr) or the recitation of particular litanies.17

Perhaps the most obvious point of comparison between Islamic and Buddhist orders—and one of central concern within this volume—is their role in the creation and maintenance of transregional networks. As noted earlier, scholars of Buddhism and Islam have devoted considerable attention to the relationship between orders and the geographic expansion of Islam and Buddhism across Southern Asia and beyond. Although in both scholarly traditions such geographic extension was initially treated without much nuance, recent work in both fields has begun to critically examine the chronology of the expansion of orders and their members across the Asian region and to develop more fine-grained pictures of the dynamics of localization involved in such expansionary processes, including what Holmes-Tagchungdharpa here calls “technologies of transmission.” Scholars of Buddhism have begun to investigate in more detail how Buddhist ideas, institutions, and forms of practice were localized within particular arenas of Southern Asia. These investigations have drawn attention to the fact that the transregional extension of Buddhism in Asia should be understood as a multidirectional networked process rather than a unilinear extension of Indic Buddhism.

In this regard, Prapod Assavavirulhakorn draws attention to the historical complexity that characterized the extension of Buddhism beyond India:

The introduction of Buddhism [to Southeast Asia] did not occur in a single moment, nor as a single act, but during a long process of time…. It is likely that there was more than simply one introduction, but rather, multiple introductions. And, there was not the introduction of just one single kind of Buddhism, but of numerous schools of Buddhism. This fact, together with the extensive area exposed to Indian cultures to which Buddhism belongs, makes the issue even more complicated, because this allows for the possibility that different places were exposed to different types of Buddhism at the same time. And it is probable that some regions did not adopt Buddhism directly from India.18

In addition to emphasizing that Buddhism and Buddhist orders extended their reach in the Southern Asian region through long and historically complex 7processes characterized by multiple locations of origin, it must be noted that contingent local circumstances also shaped the reception and patronage of members of Buddhist orders within new territories. These histories require much more detailed research than they have tended to receive.19 As the work of Alexey Kirichenko in this volume suggests, it may be fruitful to conceptualize the expansion of religious orders as occurring on a spectrum of institutionalization. At the extreme end of deinstitutionalization we find sporadic transmission of objects, texts, ordinations, and so on, moving separately from the circulation of lineages and their specialists. The opposite pole is characterized by the substantial expansion and localization of lineages along with distinctive practices and corporate institutional forms. Kenneth Dean, in his chapter on Chinese networks in Malaya, refers to these as “formal religious orders.” Perhaps more common than scholars have realized, but well attested by this volume, was the circulation of lineages separately from complex corporate institutions. Such lineages offered forms of collective identification and aspirations to practice that could be flexibly deployed in diverse local contexts, compatible with existing local practices and social and institutional dynamics.

At the same time, historians of Islam have come to substantially revise previously dominant narratives of the spread of Islam in Southern Asia. Recent scholarship on the history of Islam in the Indonesian archipelago, for example, has been marked by the development of increasingly nuanced and contextualized views on the roles Sufi orders played in processes of Muslim expansion during the premodern period.20 Michael Laffan has sounded a strong cautionary note in the face of the paucity of evidence that we actually have for organized ṭarīqa activity during the earliest phases of the Islamization of the Indonesian archipelago. Moreover, even after affiliation to particular orders appears more prominently in the seventeenth century, this appears in connection with elite court circles rather than as mechanisms for the spread of Islam among the broader population.21 Such close connections between Sufism and the structures of empire were to remain important in several parts of Southern Asia over the centuries that followed.22 What is clear through all this is that, in the premodern history of Islam in Southern Asia, Sufi orders functioned not primarily as expansionary beachheads, but rather as contextualized loci that helped to redefine modes of belief and practice for religious elites under state patronage.

Several of the contributions to this volume pursue particulars of how certain orders took shape in Southern Asia over the course of the nineteenth century. Torsten Tschacher, for example, presents an insightful perspective on the ways in which two Sufi traditions, the Qādiriyya and the Shādhiliyya, developed in southern India and Laṅkā in interaction with broader reconfigurations of orders across the Indian Ocean world during that period. In his contribution to this volume, Martin van Bruinessen critically explores the development of more popular forms of localized tarekat affiliation through his examination of the formation of confessional communities centered on rural Islamic 8schools and devotional communities in Java and Sumatra. His chapter highlights how “corporate” forms of Sufi traditions appear in Indonesia only from the nineteenth century, a period in which other types of Muslim communities that might be viewed as “orderlike formations” were also emerging. The work of Kenneth Dean similarly directs attention to the historically late monasticization of Chinese Buddhist associations within the region, shaped by British colonial policies in Malaya as well as new intellectual and institutional directions taken by Buddhists on the southern Chinese mainland. These affected Southern Asia through South China Sea Buddhist networks.23


In order to delimit the scope of our comparative exercise, this volume is organized around a regional focus on “Southern Asia.” This region—stretching from India, Sri Lanka, and the Himalayas through mainland Southeast Asia and across the Indonesian archipelago—has long been a site of dynamic and overlapping interaction between Buddhist and Muslim communities in motion. It thus forms a unit of analysis that is not only geographically contiguous, but also marked by a historically high degree of economic and cultural integration. The mobile persons and communities investigated in the chapters that follow understood themselves to function within a broad transregional geography that transcends the boundaries of modern academic area studies frameworks of “South Asia” and “Southeast Asia.”

Similarities in the ways in which both Buddhism and Islam were localized within this Southern Asian region stem in part from long centuries of interaction between these two traditions, although this interactive history requires much further scholarly investigation than it has received to date.24 Buddhists and Muslims, with their own various lineages and institutions, acculturated themselves in recognizably similar ways to a shared regional landscape characterized by deep historical dynamics of circulation. This regional landscape was constituted by patterns of political formation and the employment of supra-mundane power within human territory that extended in similar ways across Southern Asia. Buddhism and Islam underwent comparable processes of deep regional localization, and within both traditions the members of orders played significant roles in these processes. There are also substantial similarities in the dynamics through which orders were localized in Southern Asia in close relationship to regional polities.

This volume builds on our own previous work toward conceptualizing new approaches to religious connections across Southern Asia. Michael Feener has argued elsewhere for the importance of looking beyond established paradigms of “Indianization” and “influence” between “South” and “Southeast” Asia in order to better recognize the interconnected processes of social transformation that animated the connected histories of Islamization across this broader region.25 9Anne Blackburn’s study of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century transregional Buddhist projects involving Laṅkā underscores the deeply connected monastic itineraries and imaginations of Buddhist community negotiated by Southern Asian monks across the boundaries of present-day South and Southeast Asia, often exceeding national and protonational geographic limits.26 Such work serves to highlight the extent to which Cold War–era area studies optics can impede, as much (if not more) as they may facilitate, understandings of interactions between societies of “South Asia” and “Southeast Asia” in earlier periods.

Across this broader geography, local religious specialists within orders of both traditions remained in constant communication for centuries through dynamic circulations of people, ideas, texts, objects, and practices. As we see especially in the chapters by Dean, van Bruinessen, and Alatas, circulations brought diverse currents of internal reform and notions of ritual and lineage purity to the Southern Asian region from distant locations, and these moved across Southern Asia with considerable speed. At the same time, distinctive reconfigurations within the region could produce reverberations across networks of Buddhist and Islamic orders and the broader religious traditions of which they were part. Read together, the chapters in this volume draw attention to similarities across Islam and Buddhism—both within and beyond Southern Asia—in the ways that orders were shaped and reshaped through transregional processes under way within their respective traditions. In addition, they allow us to specify more closely significant points of chronological convergence between the formative dynamics of orders in both traditions, with changes in the forms of institutional structures as well as in the ideological conception of community defined in relation to particular orders. As the ensuing chapters demonstrate, comparative examinations of religious orders in Southern Asia must take into account the deep and continuing history of increasingly rapid and intense communication and mobility across the wider Buddhist and Muslim worlds, as well as the contemporaneous production of new forms of religious practice and authority at multiple points within changing religious networks during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


Scholars of Islam have yet to address fully the challenge poignantly proposed by Carl Ernst and Bruce Lawrence more than a decade ago to “figure out how to understand … [Sufi orders] as historical developments.”27 There is thus a clear need for the continuing development of more dynamic, diachronic approaches to understanding the shifting forms and features of Islamic religious orders across diverse contexts. Scholars of Sufism continue to struggle with considerable historiographic problems. Devin DeWeese has insightfully identified two aspects of the challenges faced here: “both because we know so little of the actual role of Sufis in Islamization, and because our image of Sufis themselves 10has been shaped by later textual sources.”28 This is a powerful reminder of our need to develop more nuanced readings of the literary texts of the Sufi traditions in historical context.

Nancy Florida pursues such work in her contribution to this volume on vernacular Sufi traditions of the Shaṭṭāriya order in nineteenth-century Java. Her discussion of this textual tradition demonstrates the continued association of certain forms of Sufism with court culture in the nineteenth century even as the new political realities of European imperialism reconfigured the nature of the sultanate. Through her close, historically contextualized reading of a Javanese Sufi poem (suluk), Florida reveals the complex nature of both distinctly local aesthetics and connections to a transregional discursive tradition in the conceptualization of a Sufi order. In her presentation of the history of the tarekat within courtly circles of the Surakarta palace, she explores the ways in which the literary lineages defining the order navigated both colonial reconfigurations of political power and internal movements of Islamic reform over a tumultuous period of its history. Florida’s work thus provides a compelling case for the continuing importance of particular lines of Shaṭṭārī textual tradition even during a period in which—as Martin van Bruinessen highlights in his chapter—at more popular levels the teachings of that order had become more “diffused” through folk cosmologies and practices of magic.

Other chapters in this volume further develop new approaches to the historical configurations of ṭuruq in the nineteenth century. As Ismail Alatas demonstrates with regard to the ‘Alawiyya in the Netherlands Indies, the period saw an increased emphasis on standardization in conceptions of Islamic orthopraxy among some Sufi orders. Focusing on the career of ʿAbdallāh b. ʿUmar ibn Yaḥyā (d. 1849), he explores the microhistorical interactions between this itinerant Sufi scholar, Dutch colonial authorities, and local royal houses. His work highlights the material infrastructure and contingent historical circumstances that informed the reconfiguration of a particular religious order within a single tradition.

Over two decades ago, Frank Reynolds and Charles Hallisey proposed an approach to a large-scale periodization of Buddhist history. This was an invitation to bring greater diachronic precision to the study of Buddhism in Southern Asia and beyond and to do so through an examination of changing interrelationships among polities, Buddhist orders, ritual practice, textual forms, and languages.29 A striking feature of this work was its early attempt to recognize and analyze historical changes in Buddhist conceptions of the geographic space that constituted a perceived Buddhist world as well as ways in which Buddhist communities were understood by their members to map onto cultural, national, and other political geographies.30

However, the conceptual naturalness of contemporary nation-state boundaries has exerted a powerful force within the field, making it difficult for scholars of Buddhism to recognize Buddhist socio-institutional projects occurring 11at scales larger and smaller than that of the nation. At the same time, the rich philological and philosophical orientation that characterized several generations of scholarship on Buddhism in Southern Asia has often abetted—if not always intentionally—a tendency to examine textual/doctrinal developments separately from institutional contexts.31 Thus, despite an important call to consider the transregional collective constituted by shared participation in a particular Buddhist textual-conceptual system such as the “Pāli imaginaire,”32 the study of premodern and precolonial Buddhist orders and the networks related to them has proceeded somewhat slowly,33 and sometimes with too great a reliance on the narratives of monastic “missions” articulated by Buddhist texts themselves.34 Studies of the Himalayan-Tibetan world have offered a valuable corrective to this, with considerable comparative potential for other parts of Southern Asia.35 Moreover, inspired partly by the expanding field of Indian Ocean studies as well as by an explosion of data from the “Silk Road” connecting central, southern, and eastern Asia, other recent scholarship attends more closely to the ways in which Buddhist institutions and the members of Buddhist orders participated within and helped to shape the transregional ecosystems of Southern Asia.36

As in studies of Sufism, understanding the history of Buddhist orders requires more work to clarify how specific Buddhists operated within particular frameworks of organization and action. One significant challenge faced by scholars working along such lines is that of negotiating literary portrayals of orders and their individuals that often obscure historical contexts and conditions. Alexey Kirichenko’s chapter in this volume points out new types of textual evidence, including that emanating from royal and monastic bureaucracies, that may be explored fruitfully in order to reconstruct the lives and itineraries of mobile Buddhists who participated in one or more orders within the Southern Asian region. In addition, Kirichenko develops a diachronic and intertextual strategy that can be used to reveal how members of orders negotiated their movement across institutional boundaries and secured patronage and authority in diverse locations, while accommodating themselves to historically and geographically shifting expectations of specialist behavior and experience. His study of Sāralaṅka’s (b. ca. 1730) movement between rapidly shifting political formations in Ayutthaya, Tenasserim, and Ava—like Ismail Alatas’ on the Sufi shaykh Ibn Yaḥyā in his chapter—helps us to appreciate the role of highly mobile individuals in the creation, maintenance, and transformations of orders through their negotiation of diverse social, political, and economic relationships.

Beyond court circles, orders were also reconfigured in relation to patterns of religious patronage by merchant communities in several parts of Southern Asia during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In his contribution to this volume, Torsten Tschacher calls attention to the ways in which the organization of Sufi networks and lineages shifted over the course of the eighteenth century with new dynamics of support and sponsorship taking hold among merchant elites in the Tamil regions of India and Laṅkā. The type of order that 12characterized this period, however, was not one of institutionalized structures of lineage (silsila), but rather of ritual complexes associated with shrines and the communities that supported them. As Tschacher points out, more institutionalized forms of Sufism appear there only in the nineteenth century with new dynamics of consolidation arising out of encounters and entanglements between the Qādiriyya and the Shādhiliyya orders. The resonance and attraction of the kinds of Sufi reform promoted by these two orders in the nineteenth century contributed to significant transformations in conceptions of transregional networks across the far-flung coasts of the Indian Ocean.37


The studies produced for this volume highlight important shifts in conceptions of what constitutes a religious order in diverse but interconnected locations across Southern Asia over the past three centuries. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were characterized by a number of significant developments across the religious networks of both traditions in Southern Asia. As the nineteenth century progressed, new dynamics were introduced into the ongoing reconfiguration of religious orders across Southern Asia and beyond. The context was powerfully shaped by the expansion and consolidation of European imperial power along the coasts of the Indian Ocean as well as within the Indo-Tibetan highlands. As colonial authorities expanded their power across the region in the early nineteenth century, however, the expansion of both Buddhist and Islamic religious orders accelerated apace—with both the development of new orders in the region and the introduction of others from elsewhere.38

Encounters between religious orders and colonial officials were by no means universally antagonistic during this period. Indeed, colonial policies sometimes created (albeit often inadvertently) conditions conducive to the expansion and/ or restructuring of religious orders in the region. In the Himalayan sphere, as Holmes-Tagchungdarpa’s chapter on Sikkim and Bhutan demonstrates, British interruption of earlier Sikkimese practices of royal-lama patronage opened that kingdom to a wider range of Buddhist teaching lineages. As Dean’s contribution reveals, southern Chinese Buddhist orders in the Straits Settlements became more prominent in the later nineteenth century when increasing colonial pressure on Triads encouraged Buddhist entrepreneurs and other commercial elites in the region to transfer patronage from Triad-linked temples dedicated to regional deities of diverse migrant communities and clan associations to emerging Buddhist monastic establishments. Although monastic Buddhism has a long history on the Chinese mainland, distinctive patterns of overseas Chinese commercial expansion into the Straits Settlements initially favored nonmonastic Buddhist institutions—a phenomenon encouraged by the fact that what became Malaya had no prior history of royal support for Buddhist orders. The case 13presented by Dean here also reveals how the local forms taken by orders—and the practices they encouraged—were both shaped by and constitutive of changes of emphasis within the wider religious tradition. The Mahāyāna Buddhist monasteries that developed in places like Singapore, Penang, and Malacca owed much to southern Chinese reformist trajectories favoring monastic forms of Buddhist institutional life. They also helped to naturalize this new emphasis through the circulation of Buddhist teachers and discourses within the Southern Asian and southern Chinese regions.

The colonial period interplay among rapidly changing economies, polities, institutional forms, and conceptions of “religion,” as well as discourses circulating within specific religious traditions, contributed to the emergence of a more formal sense of institutionalization and more bounded forms of organization and administration among orders in Islam and Buddhism. An important factor in such developments was an interconnected set of innovations within transportation and communications technologies. These allowed religious orders to explore new modes of connectivity over the second half of the nineteenth century.39 Steam-driven transport over rail and sea facilitated not only the itineraries of monks, shaykhs, and other ritual specialists across Southern Asia, but also opened up possibilities for new forms of mass pilgrimage to shrines and other religious sites.40 The rapid proliferation of print technology during this same period also had diverse impacts on the understandings and experiences of religion for many Muslims, Buddhists, and others all across Southern Asia. Indeed, such impacts were felt even in parts of the region that were not brought under full colonial administrative control, such as Thailand and Himalayan kingdoms like Tibet and Bhutan.41 Holmes-Tagchungdarpa’s contribution to this volume exemplifies how colonial period expansions of infrastructure created new conditions of possibility for the development of Buddhist orders, even outside domains governed completely by colonial authorities. As her research shows, the new royal line installed in Bhutan with British support became an avid patron of the Buddhist Tantric order of Shakya Shri, originating from eastern Tibet. Bhutanese royal knowledge and patronage of Shakya Shri’s order was facilitated by the expanding infrastructure for travel and print communication in the Himalayan region and across Southern Asia, helping to distinguish the new Wangchuck dynasty from its Zhabdrung predecessor. The chapters gathered here begin to suggest that the changing ecosystems of lineages, orders, and royal patronage found in Himalayan states during the British colonial period offer ground for fruitful comparison with the sultanates and princely states of India, Malaya, and the Dutch East Indies.


In the Himalayas, as in other parts of Southern Asia, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were marked by an expansion of religious orders within 14both Buddhism and Islam. Contributions to this volume reveal that in both traditions religious orders developed widening social bases in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the process, broader segments of some communities developed ideological investments in the structures of lineage and the forms of practice that were associated with particular orders. The chapters that follow explore this expansion of patronage patterns for Islamic and Buddhist orders. In many parts of Southern Asia, royal houses continued to play significant roles in the patronage of orders. However, changes in political formations and communications technologies as well as the collective norms guiding reflections on an individual’s obligations vis-à-vis his or her religious tradition all contributed to widening engagement of Buddhists and Muslims in the institutional spaces of religious orders—either as participating members, or as observers evaluating the public profiles and activities of particular orders in their communities.

Thus, in both the Buddhist and the Islamic contexts, the sense of community with a stake in orders, their definition, and their claims to authority grew significantly over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Comparative investigation and analysis illuminates the broader ecology of religious organization that informed discrete developments within different confessional communities. This volume as a whole demonstrates that careful specialist examinations of the microdynamics of institutional expansion, sponsorship, devotionalism, and competition can be successfully placed in critical, comparative perspective. Identifying analogous processes in play across both traditions facilitates new understandings of processes of transmission, reception, and localization. It also brings into sharper relief internal reconfigurations of religious institutions and the changing relationships between orders and particular forms of patronage and power. Thus, the contributions to this volume not only provide empirically rich studies of particular religious orders in the history of Southern Asia, but also clearly attest to the benefit gained through more sustained engagement between scholars of Buddhism and Islam. Controlled comparison across religious traditions in this volume has been achieved through three phases of analysis. First, we identified zones of apparent commonality within textual and institutional practice as well as in historical circumstance, searching for cases across the contexts of Islam and Buddhism that appear to bear some family resemblance to one another. A second phase involved the detailed investigation and contextualization of each case identified within the initial comparative field, seeking a more nuanced understanding of these contexts and a sharper analysis of the processes under way within them. Finally, this introduction and the chapters that follow have drawn on the data and interpretations emerging from the second phase to propose a more refined framework of comparison for further investigation within and across traditions. We hope that this work will inspire further comparative exercises of this type, sharpening our understanding of other eras and dimensions of the historical development of these expansive and dynamic religious traditions.4215


2. For a critical overview of such work on the “Atlantic World,” see Michael A. McDonnell, “Paths Not Yet Taken, Voices Not Yet Heard: Rethinking Atlantic History,” in Connected Worlds: History in Transnational Perspective, edited by Ann Curthoys and Marilyn Lake (Canberra: ANU E Press, 2005), pp. 45–62.

3. K. N. Chaudhuri, Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean: An Economic History from the Rise of Islam to 1750 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Patricia A. Risso, Merchants and Faith: Muslim Commerce and Culture in the Indian Ocean (Boulder: Westview Press, 1995); Thomas Metcalf, Imperial Connections: India and the Indian Ocean Arena, 1860–1920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007); Sugata Bose, A Hundred Horizons: The Indian Ocean in the Age of Global Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009); Sunil S. Amrith, Crossing the Bay of Bengal: The Furies of Nature and the Fortunes of Migrants (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013).

4. Anthony Reid, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450–1680, vol. 1: The Lands Below the Winds (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988); Anthony Reid, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450–1680, vol. 2: Expansion and Crisis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993); Denys Lombard, Le Carrefour Javanais: Essai d’histoire globale, 3 vols. (Paris: Éditions de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales, 1990); Janet L. Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony: The World System, A.D. 1250–1350 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989); Roderich Ptak, China’s Seaborne Trade with South and Southeast Asia, 1200–1750 (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 1999); and Angela Schottenhammer, ed., The East Asian Mediterranean: Maritime Crossroads of Culture, Commerce, and Human Migration (Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz Verlag, 2008).

6. See, for example, Azyumardi Azra, The Origins of Islamic Reformism in Southeast Asia (London: Allen and Unwin, 2004); Francis Bradley, “The Social Dynamics of Islamic 16Revivalism in Southeast Asia: The Rise of the Patani School, 1785–1909” (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, 2010); Tansen Sen, Buddhism, Diplomacy and Trade: The Realignment of Sino-Indian Relations, 600–1400 (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2003); Toni Huber, Holy Land Reborn: Pilgrimage and the Tibetan Reinvention of Buddhist India (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008); John Holt, The Buddhist Vishnu: Religious Transformation, Politics, and Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004); and D. Christian Lammerts, ed., Buddhist Dynamics in Premodern and Early Modern Southeast Asia (Singapore: Institute for Southeast Asian Studies, 2015).

9. Mark Sedgwick, The Making and Remaking of the Rashīdī Aḥmadi Sufi Order, 1799–2000 (Leiden: Brill, 2005).

12. See, for example, John Voll, “Sufi Brotherhoods: Transcultural/Transstate Networks in the Muslim World”; Christopher Bayly, “From Archaic Globalization to International Networks, circa 1600–2000,” in Interactions: Transregional Perspectives on World History, edited by Jerry H. Bentley, Renate Bridenthal, and Anand A. Yang (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2005), pp. 30–47, 14–29.

14. Histories of Buddhism often narrate the proliferation of divisions within the saṅgha by referring to the emergence of and relationships between “sects,” “schools,” “fraternities,” and “lineages.” See, for example, Richard Gombrich, Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo (London: Routledge, 1988); Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990); and Rupert Gethin, The Foundations of Buddhism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998). “Fraternity” continues to evoke (albeit distantly) the comparative framework of Christian traditions, whereas “school” and “lineage” remain closer to indigenous Southern Asian usage (e.g., darṡana, vāda, paraṃparā), with differences of emphasis. “School” typically foregrounds doctrinal and philosophical distinctions among specialist groups; “lineage” refers to specialists related through any process of transgenerational transmission. “Order” may also be used to refer to subdivisions of the saṅgha, partly to foreground social-historical or historical-sociological comparison to Islam and Christianity (e.g., Anne M. Blackburn, Buddhist Learning and Textual Practice in Eighteenth-Century Lankan Monastic Culture [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001]). When referring to monastic lineages in what are now Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Burma, scholars generally prefer to use the contemporary emic terms.

15. See, for instance, Ryuichi Abe, The Weaving of Mantra: Kukai and the Construction of Esoteric Buddhist Discourse (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999).

17. Indeed, such markers of affiliation are prominently highlighted in traditional biographical literature of Sufis written in the Arabic genre of ṭabaqāt. For an English translation of one example in the account of a Sufi from Sumatra active in the Yemeni city of Zabid in the eighteenth century, see R. Michael Feener, “Abd al-Samad in Arabia: The Yemeni Years of a Shaykh from Sumatra,” Southeast Asian Studies 4.2 (2015): 259–277.

21. Michael F. Laffan, The Makings of Indonesian Islam: Orientalism and the Narration of a Sufi Past (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011).

22. Nile Green, Indian Sufism since the Seventeenth Century: Saints, Books, and Empires in the Muslim Deccan (London: Routledge, 2006).

26. Blackburn, Buddhist Learning and Textual Practice; Anne M. Blackburn, Locations of Buddhism: Colonialism and Modernity in Sri Lanka (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).

28. Devin DeWeese, Islamization and Native Religion in the Golden Horde: Baba Tükles and Conversion to Islam in Historical and Epic Tradition (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994), p. 137.

30. See also R. A. L. H. Gunawwardana, “The World of Theravada Buddhism in History: Relevance of a Territorial Category as a Conceptual Tool in the Study of History,” in Dhamma 18 Vinaya: Essays in Honor of Venerable Professor Dhammavihari (Colombo: Sri Lanka Association for Buddhist Studies, 2005).

32. Steven Collins, Nirvana and Other Buddhist Felicities (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

33. See, for instance, Donald K. Swearer and Sommai Premchit, “The Relationship Between the Religious and Political Orders in Northern Thailand (14th–16th Centuries),” in Religion and the Legitimation of Power in Thailand, Laos, and Burma, edited by Bardwell L. Smith (Chambersburg: Anima Books, 1978); Kanai Lal Hazra, History of Theravada Buddhism in South-East Asia (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1982); Jonathan Walters, “Buddhist History: The Sri Lankan Pali Vamsas and Their Commentary,” in Querying the Medieval, edited by Ronald Inden, Jonathan Walters, and Daud Ali (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 99–164; and Anne M. Blackburn, “Localizing Lineage: Importing Higher Ordination in Theravādin South and Southeast Asia,” in Constituting Communities: Theravada Buddhism and the Religious Cultures of South and Southeast Asia, edited by John Holt, Jonathan Walters, and Jacob Kinnard (New York: State University of New York Press, 2003), pp. 131–150.

34. See Jonathan Walters, “Rethinking Buddhist Missions” (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1992); Anne M. Blackburn, “Sīhaḷa Saṅgha and Laṅkā in Premodern and Early Modern Southeast Asia,” in Lammerts, ed., Buddhist Dynamics, pp. 307–332.

35. For example, see Matthew Kapstein, The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism: Conversion, Contestation, and Memory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002); Jacob Dalton, The Gathering of Intentions: A History of a Tibetan Tantra (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016).

36. See Sen, Buddhism, Diplomacy and Trade; Indrani Chatterjee, Forgotten Friends: Monks, Marriages, Memories of Northeast India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); and Elverskog, Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road.

40. Ian J. Kerr, “Reworking a Popular Religious Practice: The Effects of Railways on Pilgrimage in 19th and 20th Century South Asia,” in Railways in Modern India, edited by Ian J. Kerr (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 304–327; and Elizabeth Nissan, “The Sacred City of Anuradhapura: Aspects of Sinhalese Buddhism and Nationhood.” (Ph.D diss., London School of Economics and Political Science, 1985).

41. Thongchai Winichakul, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of the Nation (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1994); Toni Huber, The Holy Land Reborn: Pilgrimage and the Tibetan Reinvention of Buddhist India (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).

1. Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995). The original French edition appeared in 1949, but the work did not appear in English translation until 1972.

5. A comprehensive list of such work would require a series of substantial bibliographies for several subfields and is beyond the scope of this essay. Major works of scholarship contributing to our current understanding of multiple modes of connection across maritime Asia in the areas of literature, art history, and archaeology include Sheldon Pollock, The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009); Ronit Ricci, Islam Translated: Literature, Conversion, and the Arabic Cosmopolis of South and Southeast Asia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012); Elizabeth Lambourn, “From Cambay to Samudera-Pasai and Gresik: The Export of Gujerati Grave Memorials to Sumatra and Java in the Fifteenth Century, C.E.,” Indonesia and the Malay World 31.90 (2003): 221–284; Elizabeth Lambourn, “Borrowed Words in an Ocean of Objects: Geniza Sources and New Cultural Histories of the Indian Ocean,” in Irreverent History: Essays for M. G. S. Narayanan, edited by Kesavan Veluthat and Donald R. Davis, Jr. (Delhi: Primus Books, 2014), pp. 215–242; Pierre-Yves Manguin, A. Mani, and G. Wade, eds., Early Interactions between South and Southeast Asia: Reflections on Cross-Cultural Exchange (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies Press, 2011); Himanshu Prabha Ray and Jean François Salles, eds., Tradition and Archaeology: Early Maritime Contacts in the Indian Ocean (Singapore: ISEAS Press, 2012); and John Miksic, Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300–1800 (Singapore: NUS Press, 2013).

7. Peter van der Veer, The Value of Comparison (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016), p. 28.

8. J. Spencer Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971); Alexander Knysh, Islamic Mysticism: A Short History (Leiden: Brill, 2000), pp. 169–170.

10. Nile Green, Sufism: A Global History (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), p. 82.

11. Marshall Hodgson, The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization, vol. 2 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974).

13. See, for instance, T. W. Rhys Davids, Indian Buddhism: Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by Some Points in the History of Indian Buddhism (London: Williams and Norgate, 1891), and Max Weber, Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssociologie II (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1921).

16. See, for instance, Anne Hansen, How to Behave: Buddhism and Modernity in Colonial Cambodia, 1860–1930 (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2007); and Patrick Pranke, 17“The Treatise on the Lineage of Elders (Vaṃsadīpanī): Monastic Reform and the Writing of Buddhist History in Eighteenth-Century Burma” (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 2004).

18. Prapod Assavavirulhakorn, The Ascendancy of Theravāda Buddhism in Southeast Asia (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Publications, 2010), p. 45.

19. See, for instance, Peter Skilling, “The Advent of Theravāda Buddhism to Mainland South-east Asia,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 20.1 (1997): 1–17; Assavavirulhakorn, Ascendancy of Theravāda Buddhism; and Anne M. Blackburn, “Buddhist Connections in the Indian Ocean: Changes in Monastic Mobility, 1000–1500,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 58 (2015): 3. See also the chapters by Alexey Kirichenko, Kenneth Dean, and Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa in this volume.

20. A striking example of this reevaluation of earlier views on the subject can be found in the work of Anthony Johns, who published a poignant, self-reflective piece on his own earlier work, demonstrating this change in scholarly perspective on the early history of Islam in Southeast Asia. See Anthony Johns, “Islamization in Southeast Asia: Reflections and Reconsiderations with Special Reference to the Role of Sufism,” Southeast Asian Studies 31.1 (1993).

23. Jack Meng-Tat Chia, “Diasporic Dharma: Buddhism and Modernity across the South China Sea” (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, 2017).

24. Although nothing similar yet exists for the maritime world of Southern Asia that is the focus of this volume, work along these lines has been done for the overland corridors of Central Asia in Johan Elverskog, Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2013).

25. R. Michael Feener, “Issues and Ideologies in the Study of Regional Muslim Cultures,” in Islamic Connections: Muslim Societies in South and Southeast Asia, edited by R. Michael Feener and Terenjit Sevea (Singapore: ISEAS Press, 2009), pp. xiii–xxiv.

27. Carl W. Ernst and Bruce Lawrence, Sufi Martyrs of Love: The Chisti Order in South Asia and Beyond (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002), p. 11.

29. Frank Reynolds and Charles Hallisey, “Buddhist Religion, Culture, and Civilization,” in Buddhism and Asian History, edited by Joseph M. Kitagawa and Mark D. Cummings (London: Macmillan, 1989).

31. See Gregory Schopen, “Archaeology and Protestant Presuppositions in the Study of Buddhism,” History of Religions 31 (1991): 1.

37. For contemporary developments among the Qādiriyya and the Shādhiliyya orders as they established local forms in more westerly sections of the Indian Ocean world, see Anne K. Bang, Islamic Sufi Networks in the Western Indian Ocean, c. 1880–1940 (Leiden: Brill, 2014), pp. 47–41.

38. For Buddhism, see Craig Reynolds, “The Buddhist Monkhood in Nineteenth Century Thailand” (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, 1972); Kitsiri Malalgoda, Buddhism in Sinhalese Society, 1750–1900: A Study of Religious Revival of Change (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976); Anne Hansen, How to Behave: Buddhism and Modernity in Colonial Cambodia, 1860–1930 (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2007); and Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa in this volume. For Islam: Werner Kraus, Islamische mystische Bruderschaften im heuti-gen Indonesien (Hamburg: Institut für Asienkunde, 1990); Martin van Bruinessen, Tarekat Naqsyabandiyah di Indonesia (Bandung: Mizan, 1992); Sedgwick, Making and Remaking of the Rashīdī Aḥmadi Sufi Order; Marc Gaboriau, Le Mahdi incompris: Sayyid Ahmad Barelwî (1786–1831) et le millénarisme en Inde (Paris: CNRS Éditions, 2010); as well as the contributions by Torsten Tschacher, Ismail Alatas, and Martin van Bruinessen in this volume.

39. R. Michael Feener, “New Networks and New Knowledge: Migrations, Communications and the Refiguration of the Muslim Community in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries,” in The New Cambridge History of Islam, vol. 6, edited by Robert Hefner (Cambridge, UK: University Press, 2010), pp. 39–68; James L. Gelvin and Nile Green, eds., Global Muslims in the Age of Steam and Print (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013); 19Mark Frost, “‘Wider Opportunities’: Religious Revival, Nationalist Awakening and the Global Dimension in Colombo, 1870–1920,” Modern Asian Studies 36.4 (2002): 937–967; and Steven Kemper, Rescued from the Nation: Anagarika Dharmapala and the Buddhist World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).

42. One area of future comparative work that could be particularly fruitful would be debates over projects of “modernizing” religious reform in both traditions—looking comparatively, for example, at developments in Buddhist Burma and Muslim Indonesia in the twentieth century.

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