Dr Elizabeth Harris

Job TitleHonorary Research Fellow


I am currently an Honorary Senior Research Fellow within the Edward Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion, University of Birmingham. I’ve had a varied career but eventually focussed on two areas: Interfaith Relations; Buddhist Studies. In my mid-thirties, after becoming involved with my local interfaith group in London, I went to Sri Lanka to study Buddhism on a World Council of Churches scholarship. What I thought would be a one year break from paid employment became seven and half a years. I eventually did a PhD in Buddhist Studies in Sri Lanka, mentored by some wonderful people, including Dr Aloysius Pieris s.j. Returning to the UK in 1993, I first went to Westminster College, Oxford, as a Research Fellow. Then, for eleven years, I was the national Inter Faith Officer for the Methodist Church in Britain. During this time, I was also an Honorary Lecturer at the Graduate Institute of Theology and Religion, University of Birmingham, an Associate Tutor in Inter-Faith Relations at the North Thames Ministerial Training Course and a Visiting Lecturer at Lund University. I then returned to full time academic work, at Liverpool Hope University, eventually becoming an Associate Professor in Religious Studies. I retired in 2016. I’m a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.


BA Honours (English)1972Lancaster University
MA in Buddhist Studies1988Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka
PhD in Buddhist Studies1993Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka
PGCE1973University of Liverpool
Research Interests
Research interestsMy research interests centre on Interreligious Studies and Buddhist Studies. Within these two disciplines, I am particularly interested in how the past shapes the present. For instance, some of my research in Sri Lanka has focussed on the colonial roots of Buddhist-Christian mistrust there and colonial models for contemporary Buddhist exclusivism, which has resulted in attacks on Christian churches, Hindu temples and mosques. My experience of the bitter ethnic war there also nurtured my interest in religion and conflict in a wider sense in a world where religion is rarely completely innocent. Within Buddhist Studies, I have concentrated on the Pali texts of Theravada Buddhism and have worked on themes such as Buddhism and women, Buddhism and the body, Buddhism and violence, Buddhist meditation. The latter has brought me into comparative mysticism. In the present, I am co-writing a biography of one of the first British people to become a Buddhist monk – Allan Bennett, who was ordained Ven. Ananda Metteyya in Myanmar at the beginning of the twentieth century – and editing a book entitled ‘Buddhism in Five Minutes’ on behalf of the UK Association for Buddhist Studies. This will contain short, research-informed but accessible answers to about 70 questions on Buddhism. My expertise in Buddhism has also led me into radio work. I wrote and presented a series on Buddhism, entitled The Way of the Buddha, for the BBC World Service in the mid-1990s. The interviews I undertook were expanded into the book ‘What Buddhists Believe’.
Supervision areas and levelI have supervised research at undergraduate, MA, M Phil and PhD levels. The subjects have broadly fallen within Buddhist Studies, Buddhist-Christian Studies, Interreligious Studies or ethnography. One of the doctorates I have co-supervised, for instance, has involved ethnographic research into a Christian diaspora community. Another was a comparative Buddhist-Christian study of texts on meditation/contemplation.
Books (selected)Co-editor and contributor: Meditation in Buddhist-Christian Encounter: A Critical Analysis. 2019. St Ottilien: EOS

Religion, Space and Conflict in Sri Lanka: Colonial and Postcolonial Contexts. 2018. London & New York: Routledge.

Co-editor and contributor: Twenty-First Century Theologies of Religions: Retrospection and Future Prospects. 2016. Leiden & Boston: Brill.

Buddhism for a Violent World
: A Christian Reflection. 2010. London: Epworth (the title now taken over by SCM)

Theravada Buddhism and the British Encounter: Religious, missionary and colonial experience in nineteenth century Sri Lanka. 2006. London & New York: Routledge.

What Buddhists Believe
. 1998. Oxford: Oneworld.

Journal articles and chapters (selected)Selected Peer-reviewed Articles

‘John of the Cross, the Dark Night of the Soul, and the Jhānas and the Arūpa States: A Critical Comparative Study’, 2018. Buddhist Studies Review. 35.1-2: 63-80.

‘Art, Liturgy and the Transformation of Memory: Christian Rapprochement with Buddhism in Post-Independence Sri Lanka’, 2016. Religions of South Asia. 10.1: 54-82.

‘Ananda Metteyya: controversial networker, passionate critic’, 2013. Contemporary Buddhism 14.1: 78-93.
‘Memory, Experience and the Clash of Cosmologies: The Encounter between British Protestant Missionaries and Buddhism in Nineteenth Century Sri Lanka’, 2012. Social Sciences and Mission 25.3: 265-303.

‘Sleeping Next to my Coffin: Representations of the Body in Theravāda Buddhism’, 2012. Buddhist Studies Review 29.1: 105-120.
Manipulating Meaning: Daniel John Gogerly’s Nineteenth Century Translations of the Theravāda Texts’, 2010. Buddhist Studies Review 27.2: 177-195.

Selected Chapters in Edited Collections

‘Syncretism and Inclusivist Subordination? An Exploration into the Dynamics of Inter-Religious Cooperation’, 2018. In Patrik Fridlund & Mika Vähängas eds., Theological and Philosophical Responses to Syncretism: Beyond the Mirage of Pure Religion. Leiden: Brill.

‘Exclusivism, Inclusivism and Pluralism: A Spatial Perspective’, 2016. In Elizabeth J Harris, Paul Hedges & Shanthi Hettiarachchi eds., Twenty-First Century Theologies of Religions: Retrospection and Future Prospects. 2016. Leiden & Boston: Brill: 57-75.
‘Buddhism and International Aid: A Case Study from Post-tsunami Sri Lanka’, 2013. In Hiroko Kawanami & Geoffrey Samuel eds., Buddhism, International Relief Work and Civil Society. New York: Palgrave Macmillan: 1-25.

‘Buddhism and the Religious Other’, 2013. In David Cheetham, Douglas Pratt & David Thomas eds, Understanding Interreligious Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 88-117.

‘The Cost of Peace: Buddhists and Conflict Transformation in Sri Lanka’ 2007. In Philip Broadhead & Damien Keown eds., Can Faiths Make Peace? Holy Wars and the Resolution of Religious Conflicts. London: I. B. Tauris: 149-161.

‘Buddhism and the Justification of War: A Case Study of Sri Lanka’, 2003. In Paul Robinson ed., Just War in Comparative Perspective. Aldershot & Burlington VT: Ashgate: 93-108.

‘Double Belonging in Sri Lanka: Illusion or Liberating Path’, 2002. In Catherine Cornille ed., Many Mansions: Multiple Religious Belonging and Christian Identity. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis: 76-92.

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