American Ethnological Society
Oral Presentation Session
This paper offers insight into the emergent knowledge framework of spiritual liberation through discursive and technological strategies by presenting the new televangelist ritual of Arahanthaka Aandanawa (veneration of enlightened human beings). It is a new mediatized ritual introduced by the Mahamevnāwa Buddhist monks, the first organized Buddhist televangelist group in Sri Lanka. Mahamevnāwa televangelists propagate the idea of the possibility of attaining Nirvana (salvation) in this life, thereby contesting the traditional Theravada belief in Nirvana in the afterlife. This new ritual offers fresh interpretations of the doctrine of Nirvanathrough a semiotic ideology of immediacy that is anchored in the use of Sinhala language scriptures, promise of individual salvation in the here and now, and use of media technology that democratizes access to the teachings. Through an analysis of the new linguistic forms and audio-visual technologies used in this ritual, this paper examines how these new communicative techniques help televangelist monks produce new knowledge of salvation and how they enable Mahamevnawa followers to access such knowledge. The paper shows that the knowledge is embodied and produced in the ritual practice through various discursive strategies and the technological affordances of religious media.