D. Mitra Barua is a scholar of South and Southeast Asian religions. He received training in both textual as well as social scientific studies of religion. His research examines the role of religion in nationalism, identity politics and transnational connections in South and Southeast Asia as well as among its diaspora populations in North America.
Funded by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Mitra’s dissertation-based monograph, Seeding the Dhamma into Maple Leaves (forthcoming, McGill and Queen University Press, Kingston, Canada), examines what being Buddhist means in Sri Lankan Buddhism across three distinct times and spaces: colonial Ceylon, postcolonial Sri Lanka and immigrant-friendly Canada. This translocative (across space), transtemporal (across time) and transnational analysis itself constitutes one of the book’s main contributions to the study of immigrants’ religion. It suggests that Buddhism, any religion for that matter, in the diaspora is not an isolated entity; it can be better understood only if it is studied in relation to the pre-migration history, practices and experiences of immigrants. Mitra presents Buddhism as a “discursive tradition” that shapes and is shaped by the ambient society by reflecting on the past and responding to the present.
Mitra’s current research project examines the history, religion and politics in the North Bay of Bengal region now crisscrossed by three national boundaries: India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Started with funding from the American Council of Learned Societies and the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, Mitra has been studying Bengali Buddhists, a historical religious minority now living across three national boundaries in the region. What intrigues him most is the impact of three religio-national discourses (i.e., Hindu India, Muslim Bangladesh and Buddhist Burma/Myanmar) on the Bengali Buddhist minority, who in response to religio-majority discourses have sought out transnational connections. With the current appointment at Rice’s Chao Center for Asian Studies, Mitra examines the Buddhist-Muslim relationship in the Chittagong-Rakhine area. He investigates how a linguistically diverse, culturally tolerant and religiously syncretic society has been plagued by ethnic and religious bigotry, intolerance and violence.
Prior to his affiliation to Rice University, Mitra taught and conducted research on Asian religions at the University of Saskatchewan (Canada) and Cornell University. He has contributed to Flowers on the Rock: Global and Local Buddhisms, Buddhism Contemporary Studies, The Buddhist World and the Journal of Global Buddhism. He is currently preparing a few contributions to the Journal of Buddhist Ethics, Buddhist Studies Review, the Journal of Burma Studies and Buddhist-Muslim Encounter in South and Southeast Asia. He is also a team member authoring a textbook provisionally entitled Buddhism: A History of its Thought and Practice.
The Buddhist World
John Powers (editor)
Flowers on the Rock: Global and Local Buddhisms in Canada
John Harding, Victory Hori, and Alexander Soucy (editors)
Buddhism Contemporary Studies
Sanath Nanayakkara and Russell Bowden (editors)
Religious Education in a World of Religious Diversity
Wilna A.J. Meijer, Siebren Miedema, and Alma Lanser-van der Velde (editors)