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Attracting the Heart: Social Relations and the Aesthetics of Emotion in Sri Lankan Monastic Culture
192pp. June 2010
Attracting the Heart: Social Relations and the Aesthetics of Emotion in Sri Lankan Monastic Culture
Author: Samuels, Jeffrey;
An idealized view of the lifestyle of a Buddhist monk might be described according to the doctrinal demand for emotional detachment and, ultimately, the cessation of all desire. Yet monks are also enjoined to practice compassion, a powerful emotion and equally lofty ideal, and live with every other human feeling—love, hate, jealousy, ambition—while relating to other monks and the lay community. In this important ethnography of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Jeffrey Samuels takes an unprecedented look at how emotion determines and influences the commitments that laypeople and monastics make to each other and to the Buddhist religion in general. By focusing on "multimoment" histories, Samuels highlights specific junctures in which ideas about recruitment, vocation, patronage, and institution-building are dynamically negotiated and refined. Positing a nexus between aesthetics and affect, he illustrates not only how aesthetic responses trigger certain emotions, but also how personal and shared emotions, at the local level, shape notions of beauty.

Samuels uses the voices of informants to reveal the delicately negotiated character of lay-monastic relations and temple management. In the fields of religion and Buddhist studies there has been a growing recognition of the need to examine affective dimensions of religion. His work breaks new ground in that it answers questions about Buddhist emotions and the constitutive roles they play in social life and religious practice through a close, poignant look at small-scale temple and social networks. Throughout, Samuels makes the case for the need to account for emotions in making intelligible the behavior of religious participants and practitioners.

Drawing on a decade of fieldwork that includes numerous interviews as well as an examination of written and visual sources, Attracting the Heart conveys the manner in which Buddhists describe their own histories, experiences, and encounters as they relate to the formation and continuation of Buddhist monastic culture in contemporary Sri Lanka. The book will be of interest to scholars and students of religion, Buddhist studies, anthropology, and South and Southeast Asian studies.

Topics in Contemporary Buddhism Series
“A significant step in a novel direction for the field of Buddhist studies. Scholars of religion and affect will surely want to engage this work, as will those working on the recruitment of religious professionals and the growth of religious communities. This work enriches our understanding of the complex ways by which Buddhist institutions sustain themselves, and it offers a helpful corrective to the more simplistic and economic model of social interaction within such communities. Samuels’s book will provide students a vivid account of Buddhist monastic recruitment and temple life, and will therefore serve well on the syllabi of courses designed to introduce students to Buddhism as a lived tradition. It is accessible to a broad audience, and his ethnographic accounts provide a stimulating read.” —H-Net Reviews (July 2012)

“Samuels’ long-term field-work presents the reader with private voices and draws him as much into the world of Sri Lankan Buddhist people as such as study possibly can—a deeply human book that is surely ‘Attracting the Heart.’” —Numen (59:1, 2012)

“This exemplary work of ethnography is the fruit of more than ten years of repeated fieldwork visits to Sri Lanka, as well as of the considered use of a highly appropriate set of methods. The result is an account which reveals with a fresh clarity and subtlety the institutions and culture of what might be called everyday mainline Sinhalese Buddhism.” —Pacific Affairs (December 2011)

“A beautiful and significant book that challenges and furthers our knowledge of Buddhist monasticism. . . . I would strongly recommend [it]. Samuels’s ethnography is situated within and supported by a sound academic framework. His narrative style is both scholarly and accessible, enabling readers both to touch in their imagination the Sri Lankan contexts described and to explore their significance for Buddhist Studies. I would suggest that this significance is considerable.” —Journal of Buddhist Ethics (18, 2011)
Author: Samuels, Jeffrey;
Jeffrey Samuels is associate professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Western Kentucky University.
Read the Introduction (PDF).
Series Editor’s Preface 
Notes on Romanization and Naming Practices 
Dramatis Personae 
Introduction: Buddhism and Social Relations in Contemporary Sri Lanka 

1 Narada Thero: Affective Bonds and the Making of a Social Service Monk  
2 Aesthetics of Emotions and Affective Bonds: Monastic Recruitment in Two Sri Lankan Villages 
3 Aesthetic-Affective Social Networks and Monastic Recruitment 
4 Learning to Be Novices: Monastic Education and the Construction of Vocation 
5 Temple Building as Social Service: Family, Community, and Emotion 

Conclusion: Social Relations and the Aesthetics of Emotion