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Lecture | Seminar

Modern South Asia Seminar

Thursday 26 September 2019
Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 3
2311 BZ Leiden
1.04 (Verbarium)

As part of the opening session of the Modern South Asia Seminar for the Autumn of 2019, we are happy to welcome Dr. Harshana Rambukwella, Director of the Postgraduate Institute of English, Open University of Sri Lanka. Join us for the seminar, and the reception to follow!

The Politics and Poetics of Authenticity

The politics of authenticity: Culture and Sinhala nationalism in Sri Lanka

The classical wave of scholarship on nationalism from the 1960s to the late 1980s was largely dominated by a focus on the political economy of nationalist discourse and nation-state formation. However, with the interventions of scholars such as Benedict Anderson and Partha Chatterjee the study of nationalism took a ‘cultural’ turn. But most of this work looked at nationalism as an ‘invented tradition’ or constructed discourse. 

This talk goes beyond the invention of tradition paradigm by deploying the notion of authenticity. It historicizes the discourse of authenticity in Sinhala nationalism, and in doing so raises a series of interrelated questions that apply not only to Sinhala nationalism and Sri Lanka, but also to nationalism and authenticity more generally: Why is authenticity so central to nationalism? What kind of conditions demand, sustain and reproduce it? Can we think of multiple and contending authenticities instead of one homogeneous discourse? The talk explores the life worlds of three key figure of Sinhala nationalism from the late 19th to the 20th century and through them the politics of authenticity in the formation and propagation of Sinhala nationalist discourse.

Dr Harshana Rabukwella


Harshana Rambukwella is Director, Postgraduate Institute of English, Open University of Sri Lanka. He received his PhD from the University of Hong Kong, where he is Honorary Assistant Professor at the School of English. He is the author of the Politics and Poetics of Authenticity: A Cultural Genealogy of Sinhala Nationalism (2018) published by University College London Press (UCL Press) and is a trustee of the Gratiaen Trust which awards the Gratiaen Prize for Sri Lankan writing in English and has been a jury member the national Swarna Pustahaka Awards for the Sinhala novel.  He has been a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Social Studies and Humanities (IASH) at the University of Edinburgh and is currently the Sri Lanka Chair at the South Asia Institute at the University of Heidelberg.

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