Melyn McKay

Melyn McKay

DPhil, Social And Cultural Anthropology

Exeter College

Thesis: A Good Woman:  Gender and Self-fashioning in the margins of Burmese Buddhist nationalism

Research: In 2015, Myanmar’s parliament passed four controversial ‘religious protection laws’ that many believe discriminate against women and non-Buddhists. Academic and activist discussion of the laws focuses on the ways prominent monks may use this package of legislation, and anti-Muslim or anti-Rohingya rhetoric more generally, to garner socio-political influence for a nebulous religio-nationalist movement, the Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion, known by its Burmese acronym MaBaTha. However, this does not explain either popular support for these laws and the violent ideologies they express, or why it is that some of the most vocal and dedicated supporters of MaBaTha are Buddhist nuns (thilashin) and laywomen. My research seeks to explore the lives of these women as a means of problematizing current understandings of MaBaTha and religio-nationalist violence in Myanmar.

In addition to exploring what it is female supporters of MaBaTha believe they are accomplishing as individuals, kin, Buddhists, and Burmese citizens, I will map the ways social and religious networks serve to inhibit or encourage women’s support for radical Buddhist ideologies, and ‘thicken’ the discourse around MaBaTha’s rise to prominence by suggesting academics and activists must pay more attention to ‘available choices’ (Bano 2012) before resigning our subjects to narratives that strip them of agency and perpetuate the gendering of victimhood. My work thus insists that anthropological perspectives are critical to the study of radicalization by highlighting the social and cultural conditions that produce a rationale for Buddhist violence, which is otherwise often overlooked due to persistent Western myths of Buddhist pacifism.

Other research interests: Uncertainties, Cultural Perceptions of Risk, the anthropology of Ethics and Moralities, Conflict and Peacebuilding. Anthropology of Futures.

Publications and presentations
Walton, McKay, Dr. Khin Mar Mar Kyi, “Women and Myanmar’s “Religious Protection Laws” Review of Faith and International Affairs (Forthcoming)

Walton, McKay, Dr. Khin Mar Mar Kyi, “Why are women supporting Myanmar’s ‘religious protection laws’?” East Asia Forum, Sept. 9, 2015

Fieldwork Ethics in Crisis ConferenceWolfson College
Presenter, ‘Anthropology and Compromise: impacts of donor expectations and limitations on methodological innovation and ethical practice in conflict and fragile states’, June 2015.

Human Welfare Conference, Green Templeton College,
Panel Speaker, May 2015.



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