Karma and grace: Rivalrous reckonings of fortune and misfortune



Karma and grace are grammars for material and moral being, each offering onto-cosmological justification for the vicissitudes of destiny. Beyond their scriptural renderings, karma and grace are vernacular cosmologies, which in Sri Lanka, are engaged as repertoires of judgment, reckoning, and discernment of causes of fortune and misfortune. This paper ventures to compare and contrast karma and grace. It queries the agonistic intersection between evangelical imperatives towards Christian proselytism and conversion, and nationalistic imperatives to maintain the Buddhist heritage of Sri Lanka. Pentecostal-charismatic Christians extol conversion as discontinuity, which rests upon surrender to grace. Dedicated Buddhists, in contrast, consider one’s life-conditions as righteously inherited through a karmically-governed cosmos, and thus place great value upon religio-moral continuity. In agonistic interchanges between Buddhist nationalists and Christian evangelists in Sri Lanka, we see how karma and grace may be seen as constituting two competing economies of religious belonging.


Buddhism, Christianity, theodicy, economic ethics, ontologies of religious belonging

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/706043