Preacher and Ritualist: the role of Theravada Buddhist monks
10 September 2009
Dr Rita Langer in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies has been awarded £25,000 by the AHRC for her research into the role of Buddhist monks in funerals and post-funerary rites.
Buddhist funeral rites are a careful blend of chanting, preaching and ritual activity, and the Buddhist monks are at the centre of these. Lay people invite monks to chant in the house on the days leading up to the funeral and to officiate on the funeral day itself.
Monks are also invited on later occasions at certain intervals (after seven days, after three months and annually on the death anniversary) and these events follow a certain pattern: monks are invited for alms giving (usually lunch); a short sermon is given after the meal and this is followed by a ritual transfer of merit to the dead accompanied by chanted verses. Even the most secular Buddhists would not opt for a funeral without monks being involved at least for part of the proceedings.
This makes funerals and post-funerary rites a unique occasion for observing the role of the monks. It is, of course, in practice impossible to completely separate the three broad areas of activity (chanting, preaching and ritual) as they complement each other and form a ceremonial unit or sequence. However, in my research I shall focus on each of these separately, while still bearing in mind the overall context and possible overlap.