Buddhist Heritage and Conservation in Sri Lanka Lecture Series

Conserving Buddhist stupas and religious nationalism in Sri Lanka

Speaker: Jagath Weerasinghe

Surveying, excavating, and conserving Buddhist stupas have been major activities undertaken by Sri Lankan archaeologists since colonial times. The conservation of Buddhist stupas holds an important place in the archaeological agenda of national institutions in Sri Lanka. In his talk, Jagath Weerasinghe discusses the elusive concept of ‘authenticity’, treated as the most important criterion in conserving architectural heritage, and examines the crisis that emerged when this centerpiece of the Authorized Heritage Discourse was applied to the conservation of Abhayagiriya Stupa at the Sacred City of Anuradhapura, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The crisis took on a political dimension when the ceremonial reopening of the recently conserved stupa was postponed due to a petition lodged with the President of Sri Lanka by custodian monks who maintained that the stupa should be restored with complete rebuilding and whitewashing of its exterior. This approach contradicts the World Heritage Convention regarding an object’s integrity and authenticity and it departs from a 30-year agreement that included the religious community. Today religious nationalist rhetoric dominates Sri Lanka and the concept of authenticity is being used to challenge existing theories of conservation and restoration and to further nationalist agendas.

Jagath Weerasinghe is an artist, archaeologist, and a conservator. He was the Director of the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology and is currently the Director of Archaeology for the Central Cultural Fund projects at the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Sigiriya and Dambulla. He is also the Founding Chair of the Theertha International Artists Collective.

Organised by Lori Wong (The Courtauld) and Sujatha Meegama (The Courtauld).

Supported by the Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Centre for Buddhist Art and Conservation.

The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Centre for Buddhist Art and Conservation at The Courtauld was established by a generous endowment in 2012 from the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation.

This event has passed.

27 Feb 2023

Monday 27th February 2023, 6pm - 7pm GMT

Free, booking essential

Vernon Square Campus, Lecture Theatre 2

This is an in person event at our Vernon Square campus. Booking will close 30 minutes before the event begins.


Abstract image with shapes in grey, brown, white and black

Conserving Buddhist stupas and religious nationalism in Sri Lanka