Shamara Wettimuny

I am currently completing the first year of my DPhil in History at the University of Oxford. I am interested in identity formation and religious violence, and am exploring the underlying drivers behind the 1915 anti-Muslim pogrom in Sri Lanka (known then as Ceylon).

Specifically, my research focuses on how, and to what extent, British colonial policies influenced identity formation and, ultimately, violence in Ceylon. I examine the impact of British colonial policies on relations between Sinhala-Buddhists and Muslim Moors. More broadly, I hope to locate the violence of 1915 within the global context, and shed light on broader historiographical questions pertaining to the history of British colonialism in Ceylon.

There is currently limited scholarship on the interaction between British colonial policies, Sinhala-Buddhist and Muslim Moorish identity formation, and ethno-religious violence. This gap stands in marked contrast to research on the impact of British colonial policies on Hindu-Muslim relations in India. Indeed, the development of inter-communal tensions and ethno-religious violence has been a consuming feature of South Asian historiography in general.

My investigation of the 1915 anti-Muslim pogrom also includes an analysis of the Islamic revival in Ceylon, in relation to other such revivals taking place at the turn of the century in South Asia. Similarly, I explore the impact of the First World War on the functioning of the colonial state in Ceylon at the time – how it influenced the state’s interpretation of and response to the violence in 1915. My methodology for primary research is almost entirely archival. My sources are located mostly between the National Archives in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and the National Archives in London, UK. There a number of relevant diaries and journals available in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and there are also pertinent letters, postcards, and pictures available at the Royal Commonwealth Society Library at the University of Cambridge.

Research on this colonial-era conflict is increasingly relevant to present-day Sri Lanka; Sinhala-Buddhist – Muslim relations have worsened in the post-civil war period (since 2009), leading to ethno-religious violence reminiscent of the anti-Muslim pogrom of 1915. As recently as May 2019, anti-Muslim attacks have taken place across Sri Lanka, and have included the burning of Muslim homes, businesses, and places of worship. The scale of anti-Muslim violence in contemporary Sri Lanka is, thus far, only comparable to the 1915 pogrom.

I am currently a graduate tutor in history at Worcester College, University of Oxford. I teach two modules; Nationalism and Conflict in the Twentieth Century, and a general course on Global and Imperial History. I am also a Research Associate at Verité Research, a Colombo-based think tank, where I work on contemporary issues of religious violence and reconciliation.

Selected papers and publications

British Association of South Asian Studies Annual Conference 2019, University of Durham, ‘The Transformation of Tolerance: Religious Freedom in Sri Lanka’s Buddhist Tradition’ (4 April 2019)

Law and Society Association Annual Meeting 2019, Washington D.C. ‘The Paradox of Indignity: Violence and Majoritarianism in Colonial Ceylon’ (30 May 2019)

LSE International History Blog, ‘Regulating Religious Rites: Did British Regulation of ‘Noise Worship’ Trigger the 1915 Riots in Ceylon?’ (31 May 2018)

Groundviews, ‘On Kandy: How Myths about Minorities Underlie Violence’ (9 March 2018)

Religious Violence in Sri Lanka: A New Perspective on an Old Problem’ (26 May 2017) Daily FT (co-author)

Groundviews, ‘The Danger in Distorted Education: Sri Lanka’s History Curriculum’ (29 October 2016)

Professional Affiliations

Member of British Association of South Asian Studies (BASAS), the Royal Historical Society, the American Institute of Lankan Studies (AILS), the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka (RASSL), Faculty of History – University of Oxford, and the Oxford Centre for Global History.

Contact Details

Twitter: @shamara4w