Ben SchonthalBenjamin Schonthal

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

Associate Professor of Buddhism/Asian Religions

Associate Dean (International) Humanities

Room: Richardson 4S13
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, where his dissertation received the international 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. He has been President of the New Zealand Association for the Study of Religions and a visiting fellow at Northwestern University and the Institute for Advanced Study in Bielefeld, Germany. He currently serves as Associate Editor for South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies and Buddhism, Law & Society and an executive board member of the Australian Association of Buddhist Studies.

Ben is the author of Buddhism, Politics and the Limits of Law (Cambridge University Press 2016) and a variety of scholarly articles in journals such as Modern Asian Studies, The Journal of Asian Studies and the International Journal of Constitutional Law. In 2016 he received the Otago University Award for Distinction in Research (Early Career). His current research project, supported by the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society of New Zealand, examines the politics and practice of Buddhist law in contemporary South and Southeast Asia.

Ben has won several awards for his teaching and supervision at the University of Chicago and Otago, including being named one of the "top ten teachers" and finalist for "supervisor of the year" by the Otago University Students Association and receiving the Division of Humanities' Teaching Excellence Award. In 2019, he received the University of Otago Excellence in Teaching Award.

Ben's site, with many of his publications, can be found here.


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

Gihani De Silva, Ph.D. (primary supervisor) "Buddhist Nuns and Social Empowerment"

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

Sanjana Hattotuwa, Ph.D. (secondary supervisor) Title TBA

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


Completed Students

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

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

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

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

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






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

Mar 2019 in Journal of Law and Religion, Jan 2019 inAsian Ethnology, Aug 2018 in Law and Politics Book Review, Jun 2018 in International Journal of Constitutional Law, Aug 2017 in Asian Journal of Law and Society, Aug 2017 in Law & Society Review.


[In draft] Buddhist Law in Contemporary Southern Asia (Tentative title)


JOURNAL ARTICLES (Peer-reviewed)

(2019) "Buddhist Law Against the State: Thinking Again About Religion, Law and Conflict" in Journal of the American Academy of Religion

(2018) "Monastic Governance in Multi-Legal Modernity: Buddhist Monastic Lawand Legal Pluralism in Contemporary South and Southeast Asia," Buddhism, Law & Society 3

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

(2018) "Buddhism and Constitutional Practice" Asian Journal of Comparative Law 11(4)

(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)

(2019, forthcoming) “Buddhists Perspectives on Religious Freedom” in Routledge Handbook to Freedom of Religion and Belief. Edited by Silvio Ferrari, Mark Hill, Arif A. Jamal and Rossella Bottoni. New York: Routledge Press.

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

(2018) "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" inTolerations 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