Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New book on the impact of the Pol Pot regime on Cambodian Buddhism

Harris, Ian Charles. Buddhism under Pol Pot. Phnom Penh: Documentation Center of Cambodia, 2007.

This volume is a welcome addition to the existing body of scholarship on Democratic Kampuchea and the Pol Pot regime. Ian Harris, author of Cambodian Buddhism: History and Practice (2005), examines the decline of Cambodian Buddhism between 1970 and 1979, from the overthrow of Prince Sihanouk to the rise and fall of Democratic Kampuchea. What emerges from this study is the sense that the Khmer Rouge leaders were initially at odds as to how to deal with Buddhism. Some were uncompromising in their opposition to Buddhism (and all other religions). Others were somewhat more sympathetic. As late as 1975, in fact, some leaders argued in favor of sparing religion. This is an interesting contrast to, say, the Bolshevik leadership in the 1920s and 1930s or the Chinese communists during the Cultural Revolution. Ultimately, and perhaps needless to say, the extremists carried the day and undertook to systematically eradicate religion in Cambodia. The persecution of Buddhist monks and the desecration of the nation’s monasteries got underway in earnest after the liberation of Phnom Penh.

For additional reading, see Welch, Holmes. Buddhism under Mao. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1972, which offers a number of interesting historical parallels to events in Cambodia as well as some excellent insights into Maoist thought in relation to the question of religion

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