The Kings of Buddhism explores the consequences of state regulation and protection of a country’s majority religion. Sterken argues that religious liberty or the lack thereof results from rational interest-based calculations of both religious and state actors. Using insights dating back to Adam Smith, John Locke, and Thomas Jefferson, Sterken argues that centuries of state support for Theravada Buddhism has corrupted the Myanmar religious marketplace. At the expense of religions and the society, Myanmar’s kings and military rulers have protected and regulated religion to enhance their own political survival. The consequences state and religion entanglement include 1) a state supported religious monopoly, 2) corruption, regulation, and repression of Theravada Buddhists, 3) repression and violence against religious minorities, 4) perpetual conflict and violence, 5) a corrupt religious economy, and 6) a corruption of truth. The consequences of state control are stark and should serve as a warning to all who would seek to entangle religion and the state.
Robert E. Sterken Jr. is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas at Tyler. Sterken’s research is focused on religion and the state in Southeast Asia. He is the author of Teaching Barefoot in Burma, Bill Ratliff: A Profile of Courage and Leadership in American Politics, and numerous articles and chapters. In 2015-2016, Sterken was a Fulbright Scholar at Yangon University and the Myanmar Institute of Theology. As a Fulbright Specialist in 2018, Sterken taught religion and politics at Jilin University in Changchun, China, where he was awarded Jilin University’s Distinguished Visiting Professor Award.