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4 | 2013
Religion and development
Religion et développement

The Political Economy of Desire in Ritual and Activism in SriLanka (abstract)

Wim Van Daele
p. 159-173
L’économie politique du désir dans le rituel et le militantisme au SriLanka


Amidst the complexity of the development-religion nexus, this chapter examines desire and its varying expressions as fundamental concerns of many religions motivating both development and alternatives to development. In Sri Lanka, as people deal with social change, the neoliberal and globalised development is understood and re-interpreted through local idioms and formations of desire. The neoliberal economy cultivates desire and, as such, leads to a perceived increase in the presence of pretas (greedy, hungry ghosts) that occasionally emerge when people die. The hungry ghosts, as fetishised formations of desire, resonate with consumers and entrepreneurs, who exhibit an insatiable hunger for ever more material wealth. Hence, the ritual appeasement of hungry ghosts and the social activism of groups such as the Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform are clearly linked by their mutual concern with the existential insecurity of fellow human and non-human beings caused by excessive and unbalanced desire. However, the explicit articulation of specific concerns regarding desire diverges between ritual action and social activism. Ritual materialises and condenses the anxiety related to desire, whereas social activism describes the fetishisation of desire in more abstract economic, political and scientific terms.

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Index terms

Geographic keywords :

Sri Lanka
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Editors' notes

Paperback reference : Van Daele, W. (2013) "The Political Economy of Desire in Ritual and Activism in Sri Lanka", in International Development Policy: Religion and Development, No.4, Geneva: Graduate Institute Publications, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 159-173.

Cite this article

Bibliographical reference

Wim Van Daele, « The Political Economy of Desire in Ritual and Activism in SriLanka (abstract) »,International Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement, 4 | 2013, 159-173.

Electronic reference

Wim Van Daele, « The Political Economy of Desire in Ritual and Activism in SriLanka (abstract) », International Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement [Online], 4 | 2013, Online since 14 February 2013, connection on 22 January 2020. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/poldev.1454

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About the author

Wim Van Daele

Doctoral candidate at the Centre Leo Apostel of Vrije Universiteit Brussel. He studies the ways in which food mediates the social dynamics of Sri Lanka. Following sixteen months of fieldwork, he was a visiting research student at both the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London and the University of Chicago.

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International Development Policy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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