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Mountain at a Center of the World : Pilgrimage and Pluralism in Sri Lanka - Alexander McKinley

Mountain at a Center of the World

Pilgrimage and Pluralism in Sri Lanka

By: Alexander McKinley

Paperback | 26 March 2024 | Edition Number 1

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At the pilgrimage site of Adam's Peak in Sri Lanka, a footprint is embedded atop the mountain summit. Buddhists hold that it was left by the Buddha, Hindus say Lord Siva, and Muslims and Christians identify it with Adam, the first man. The Sri Lankan state, for its part, often uses the Peak as a prop to convey a harmonious image of religious pluralism, despite increasing Buddhist hegemony. How should the diversity of this place be understood historically and managed practically?

Considering the varied heritage of this sacred site, Alexander McKinley develops a new account of pluralism based in political ecology, representing the full array of actors and issues on the mountain. From its diverse people to rare species to deep geology, the Peak exemplifies a planetary pluralism that recognizes a multiplicity of beings while accepting competition and disorder. Taking a place-based approach, McKinley casts the mountain as an actor, exploring how its rocks, forests, and waters promote pilgrimage, inspire storytelling, and make ethical demands on human communities. Combining history and ethnography while furnishing original translations of sources from Pali, Sinhala, and Tamil, this multidisciplinary and stylistically innovative book shows how religious traditions share literal common ground in their reverence for the mountain.
Industry Reviews
This original and creative work deserves reading and rereading. Readers will find in McKinley's book important unfamiliar accounts of Sri Lanka's plural religious histories as well as an introduction to a rich corpus of multilingual literary materials addressing the power of the Peak and its environment. The valuable translations will be of use to teachers and researchers. Encompassing all of this is an innovative approach to ethical reasoning about Sri Lankan natural and social spaces as McKinley invites us to 'abide by Sri Lanka' in new ways. -- Anne M. Blackburn, author of Buddhist-Inflected Sovereignties across the Indian Ocean: A Pali Arena, 1200-1550
Drawing on close textual and ethnographic studies as well as on the insights afforded by friendships with 'worker-pilgrims' on the mountain, McKinley deftly locates the Peak in a variety of local, global, and planetary histories. Making the Peak the theoretical anchor of his reflections, McKinley invites us to learn how to listen to the mountain itself and especially the ethical demands that it makes on us. -- Charles Hallisey, Harvard Divinity School
Mountain at a Center of the World folds Adam's Peak in Sri Lanka into a kaleidoscope of swirling perspectives, from history, from literature, and from the mountain itself. McKinley displays a fascinating and utterly brilliant ability to dance quite effortlessly between various different scholarly fields and weave together multiple threads of questions, interlacing mythological stories with their functionality in various religious and cultural contexts. I am truly bowled over by the author's efforts. -- Vijaya Nagarajan, author of Feeding a Thousand Souls: Women, Ritual, and Ecology in India-An Exploration of the Kolam

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