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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Asha Nadkarni

Second Advisor

Charles Hallisey

Third Advisor

Malcolm Sen

Fourth Advisor

Banu Subramaniam

Subject Categories

Buddhist Studies | Comparative Literature | Literature in English, Anglophone outside British Isles and North America | South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies


This study analyzes the centrality of South Asian Buddhist heritages in the articulation of multiple iterations of “the secular” in post-independent Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan. As contradictory as such a proposition might seem, this project demonstrates that literature was a forum where the category and language of Buddhism were reoriented to fashion new ideas of “the secular” for modern South Asian polities. With this in mind, I turn to the quintessential genres of secularity in South Asia: the twentieth-century novel and short story. These genres reveal how the category of Buddhism, Buddhist ethics and literature were received and used by both Buddhist and non-Buddhist communities to explore possibilities of the secular that converged with the religious. I specifically read the works of Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike (1899-1959), Martin Wickramasinghe (1890-1976), Intizar Husain (1923-2016), Qurratulain Hyder (1927-2007), and Punyakante Wijenaike (1933-2023) to illustrate that correlations between the category of Buddhism and notions of “the secular” shaped the grammar of secularism as political policy and cultural concept in South Asia. Drawing on a wide range of scholarship, this study not only reveals why existing criticism has thus far overlooked this important correlation, but it also demonstrates that these connections are crucial to understanding contemporary attitudes to both Buddhisms and ideas of the “secular” in South Asia.