Ben SchonthalBenjamin Schonthal

BA (Bowdoin) MA (Sydney) MA PhD (Chicago)

Associate Professor of Buddhism/Asian Religions

Associate Dean (International) Humanities

Room: 107, 97 Albany Street
Tel: 64 3 479 8795

Ben is Associate Professor of Buddhism and Asian Religions and Associate Dean (International) for the Humanities Division. He received his Ph.D. in the field of History of Religions at the University of Chicago. His dissertation received the 2013 Law & Society Association Dissertation Award. Ben's research examines the intersections of religion, law and politics in late-colonial and contemporary Southern Asia, with a particular focus on Buddhism and law in Sri Lanka. His work appears in The Journal of Asian Studies, Modern Asian Studies, the International Journal of Constitutional Law and other places. Ben's first book, Buddhism, Politics and the Limits of Law, appeared with Cambridge University Press in 2016. (Review in LSR here.) His current research project, supported by the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society of New Zealand, examines the lived practices of monastic law in contemporary Sri Lanka and their links with state-legal structures. Ben has served as President of the NZ Association for the Study of Religions and been a fellow at the ZiF (Institute for Advanced Study) in Bielefeld, Germany as part of an international research group on Religion, Constitutionalism and Human Rights. He serves as Associate Editor for South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies and on the Board of Editors for Buddhism, Law & Society.

Ben teaches and supervises in the areas of Buddhism, Southern Asian religions, religion and law, religion and identity, and methods and theories in the study of religion. The Otago University Students Association named Ben one of the "top ten teachers" for 2015 and a finalist for "supervisor of the year" in 2016. In 2016 he received an Otago University Early Career Award for Distinction in Research.

Ben is founder and co-convener of a regular workshop series for teaching staff across the university called Pooling Teaching Tips.


Papers taught in 2018

First semester
Key Debates in the Humanities

Postgraduate Supervision

Ben encourages inquiries from prospective Ph.D. candidates working on topics in the areas of Buddhism, religion in colonial and contemporary Southern Asia (especially Sri Lanka), religion and law, or religion and politics.

Otago's Ph.D. program is three years long and the university offers competitive scholarships to highly qualified applicants with a record of academic excellence. For general information on Otago's Ph.D. program see here.

Current Postgraduate Students

Imogen Standring, Ph.D. (primary supervisor) "Black Magic and Modernity: Witch Hunting in Modern India"

Thomas White, Ph.D. (primary supervisor) "Recognizing the Sacred in Secular Constitutions: The Case of Fiji"

Keziah Wallis, Ph.D.(primary supervisor) "Beyond Buddhism: the role of spirit cult in Burmese religion."

Tongthida Krawengit, M.A. (primary supervisor) "Buddhism, Orthodoxy and The Trial of Khruba Srivichai"


Completed Students

Sara Rahmani, Ph.D. (secondary supervisor) "Drifting Through Samsara: Tacit Conversion and Disengagement in Goenka’s Vipassana Movement in New Zealand"

Hollie Guyton, Honours (primary supervisor) Topic on Buddhism and the Beat Generation
Len West, Honours (primary supervisor) Topic on Jack Kornfield and Vipassanā Meditation
Tad Tobin, Honours (primary supervisor) Topic on Aleister Crowly and Religious Modernity

Phra Akbordin Rattana, M.A. (primary supervisor) "Upagupta and Marabandha in Paramanujit's Paṭhamasambodhi"





(2016, November) Buddhism, Politics, and the Limits of Law. New York: Cambridge University Press.


JOURNAL ARTICLES (Peer-reviewed)

(2018, forthcoming) "Litigating Vinaya: Buddhist Law and Public Law in Contemporary Sri Lanka" Buddhism, Law & Society 3

(2018, forthcoming) "Buddhism and Constitutional Practice" Asian Journal of Comparative Law

(2018) "Economies of Expert Religion in Sri Lanka" in the Journal of Religion and Political Practice 4(1), 25-45

(2017) "Formations of Buddhist Constitutionalism in South and Southeast Asia" in the International Journal of Constitutional Law 15(3)

(2016) “Securing the Sasana through Law: Buddhist Constitutionalism and Buddhist-Interest Litigation in Sri Lanka” in Modern Asian Studies. March.

(2016)  “Environments of Law: Muslims, Buddhists and the State in Sri Lanka” in Journal of Asian Studies 75(1): 137-56.

(2016), with Matt Walton "The (New) Buddhist Nationalisms? Symmetries and Specificities in Sri Lanka and Myanmar" in Journal of Contemporary Buddhism 17(1): 1-35.

(2016), with Tom Ginsburg "Setting an Agenda for the Socio-legal Study of Contemporary Buddhism" in Asian Journal of Law and Society 3(1). March.

(2016) "The Impossibility of a Buddhist State" in Asian Journal of Law and Society 3(1). March.

(2015), with Tamir Moustafa, Matthew Nelson, and Shylashri Shankar “Is the Rule of Law as an Antidote for Religious Tension? The Promise and Peril of Judicializing Religious Freedom” American Behavioral Scientist: 1-21.

(2014) “Constitutionalizing Religion: The Pyrrhic Success of Religious Rights in Postcolonial Sri Lanka” in Journal of Law and Religion Vol. 29(2), 1-21.


BOOK CHAPTERS (Peer-reviewed)

(2018) "The Meanings of Sacrifice: the LTTE, Suicide, and the limits of the ‘Religion Question'" M. Kitts (ed.) Religious Perspectives on Suicide, Oxford University Press, New York.

(2018, forthcoming) "Jurisdictional vs. Official Control: Regulating the Buddhist Saṅgha South and Southeast Asia” in Regulating Religion in Asia: Norms, Modes, and Challenges. Daniel Go, Arif Jamal and Jaclyn Neo (eds.) London: Cambridge University Press.

(2017) "The Tolerations of Theravada Buddhism" in Tolerations in Comparative Perspective (Studies in Comparative Political Theory). Vicki Spencer (ed.) Lexington Books.

(2016) “Phases of Buddhist Nationalism in Sri Lanka” in Buddhist Militants and Muslim Minorities in Sri Lanka. John C. Holt (ed.) Oxford University Press.

(2016) “Law and Religion” in Oxford Handbook for the Study of Religion. Steven Engler and Michael Strausberg (eds.). Oxford University Press.

(2016) “The ‘Muslim Other’ in Myanmar and Sri Lanka” in Islam, State and Society in Myanmar.  Melissa Crouch (ed.).  Oxford University Press. 234-257.

(2015) “Ceylon/Sri Lanka: The Politics of Religious Freedom at Empire’s End” in Politics of Religious Freedom.  Edited by Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, Saba Mahmood & Peter Danchin.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 149-157.

(2014) “The Legal Regulation of Religion:  The Case of Buddhism in Post-Colonial Sri Lanka” in Buddhism and Law: An Introduction.  Rebecca French & Mark Nathan (eds.).  New York: Cambridge University Press, 116-133.

(2012) “Buddhism and the Constitution: The Historiography and Postcolonial Politics of Section 6 / Article 9” in The Sri Lankan Republic at 40: Reflections on Constitutional History, Theory and Practice.  Asanga Welikala (ed.) Colombo: Centre for Policy Alternatives, 201-218.

(2011) “Translating Remembering” in the Sri Lanka Reader: History, Politics, Culture.  John C. Holt (ed.). Duke University Press, 542-556.


(2016) Schonthal, Benjamin, and Asanga Welikala. Buddhism and the Regulation of Religion in the New Constitution: Past Debates, Present Challenges, Future Options. CPA Working Papers on Constitutional Reform, July 22: 1-33.

(2016) Buddhism and/in Comparative Constitutional Law, Int’l J. Const. L. Blog, June 3:

(2016) "The Uncertainty Principles of Heisenberg and Hurd." The Imminanent Frame, Apr 21.

(2013)  “Legalizing Prayer and Politics.” Reverberations. Dec 4.

(2012) “Reading Religious Freedom in Sri Lanka.” The Immanent Frame, May.
(2011) “Stating the Religious in Egypt and Elsewhere.” Sightings, University of Chicago, Dec 8.

(2010)  “Making Violence Buddhist.” Sightings, University of Chicago, Dec 2.



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University of Otago Religious Studies Programme