The conflict is Sri Lanka has led to the emergence of new organizational structures in some religious groups and has endowed them with a stronger community role, according to European and Sri Lankan scholars at a workshop that took place at the University of Edinburgh on March 12–13, which RW attended.
The research focused on two districts in eastern Sri Lanka (Batticaloa and Ampara) and was conducted by a team from the Universities of Edinburgh and Zurich, School of Oriental and African Studies, as well as from three universities in Sri Lanka. The new fault lines in the Muslim community between traditional and reformist Muslims cannot be attributed to the civil war under way in Sri Lanka, since similar developments can be observed in other places across the world.
But a direct consequence of the conflict has been the emergence of local mosque federations, which take a leadership role and supply a variety of services that the state is unable to provide, in contrast with the traditional low-key role of local mosques in the country. More and more mosque-based activities are developing. No counterpart has emerged among the Hindu communities, since anything distracting from the cause of Tamil nationalism has been discouraged by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which does not want to see other sources of leadership emerge.
The situation is different with the Roman Catholic Church, due to its structure; it is the only relatively safe field for leadership figures to emerge beside the LTTE in the Tamil community. Regarding Buddhists in the two eastern districts under observation, temples have become kinds of “crisis management centers” in Buddhist villages. In addition, the situation has led a number of monks to become social activists beside their traditional role.
There are also some inter-religious efforts to mediate and work toward peace in the area. This can contribute to dampening the violence, but it does not address the root causes of the conflict. To go further would mean challenging the positions of political and military actors, and thus losing the “neutrality” and unique “transgressive capacity” of religious actors in a conflict situation.