Focusing on the historical events of post-independence Sri Lanka, S. J. Tambiah analyzes the causes of the violent conflict between the majority Sinhalese Buddhists and the minority Tamils. He demonstrates that the crisis is primarily a result of recent societal stresses—educational expansions, linguistic policy, unemployment, uneven income distribution, population movements, contemporary uses of the past as religious and national ideology, and trends toward authoritarianism—rather than age-old racial and religious differences.
"In this concise, informative, lucidly written book, scrupulously documented and well indexed, [Tambiah] trains his dispassionate anthropologist's eye on the tangled roots of an urgent, present-day problem in the passionate hope that enlightenment, understanding, and a generous spirit of compromise may yet be able to prevail."—Merle Rubin, Christian Science Monitor
"An incredibly rich and balanced analysis of the crisis. It is exemplary in highlighting the general complexities of ethnic crises in long-lived societies carrying a burden of historical memories."—Amita Shastri, Journal of Asian Studies
"Tambiah makes an eloquent case for pluralist democracy in a country abundantly endowed with excuses to abandon such an approach to politics."—Donald L. Horowitz, New Republic
"An excellent and thought-provoking book, for anyone who cares about Sri Lanka."—Paul Sieghart, Los Angeles Times Book Review