It is with sadness I heard this week of the passing of Professor Andrew Huxley of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London. I had never met Professor Huxley, but I did have email correspondence with him in relation to his recent contribution ‘Is Burmese Law Buddhist?’.
He was also kind enough to read and comment on some of my own work via email, even though he had never met me. I was extremely grateful for his generous comments and feedback. I want to use this post to reflect back on some of his publications that have made a significant contribution to the study of law in Myanmar/Burma.
Professor Huxley spent part of his academic career expanding our understanding of Burmese Buddhist law and locating it in the context of the literature on Buddhist law in Southeast Asia. For readers looking for a concise overview of the literature on Burmese Buddhist law published from the 1980s to 2001, his review offers an excellent introduction.
Professor Huxley highlighted the way in which the dhammathats are evidence of the important role that law played under the kings, and that it was not the British who first introduced the rule of law in Burma. He argued that Burmese Buddhist law is relevant and needs to be understood by historians, Pali scholars and lawyers, because it remains the source of personal law for most Buddhists in Myanmar. His work has advocated for the view that the legal system that existed in Burma prior to colonialism was well-developed.
Professor Huxley addressed the works of prominent colonial figures, such as John Jardine (1844–1919) who held the position of Judicial Commissioner of British Burma and is well-known for his Notes on Buddhist Law (1882–83); and Em Forchhammer (1851–90), a Government Archaeologist of British Burma who wrote The Jardine Prize: An Essay 1885. For example, on Forchhammer, Professor Huxley questioned his argument that the dhammathat literature of 1880s was derived from a single Mon work, and suggests instead that Mon influence varied depending on place and overtime.
Professor Huxley provided an insightful overview of government policies towards religion and towards the sangha in particular, which is accessible to readers from a common law background with its comparative approach to the conceptualization of religion and the state in England and Burma. He identified three shared concerns: who can oversee religious organisations, which texts are recognised as authoritative, and how the state deals with non-conformists. He highlighted the way in which Buddhist ecclesiastical law was applied in the courts from annexation up until 1918, but after that time declined as judges demonstrated a preference for dhammathat over vinaya. Overall, he demonstrated the way in which the position of the sangha has changed dramatically since independence when the sangha and the vinaya were encouraged and recognised, to the other extreme of excessive legislative control over the sangha.
Professor Huxley often wrote as a comparative law scholar, as evident in his comparison of sixteenth-century Burmese legalism with Western European approaches to law and kingship.
Professor Huxley’s most recent chapter was written at the time of his retirement and constitutes a reflection on the broader socio-political and legal changes that took place after independence and are now taking place at the sixty-fifth anniversary of the country, combined with detailed discussion of the dhammathats. He argued that prior to 1885, Burmese law was distinctly Buddhist; however this year marked not only the end of Burmese rule and the beginning of colonialism across the country, but also the replacement of codified Burmese law with case law. A unique feature of Professor Huxley’s work is the way in which he deftly speaks across legal cultures and families, drawing parallels and contrasts with common and civil law contexts, as well as both Western and Asian legal traditions.
Here is a link to a list of Professor Huxley’s work, which he sent to me several months ago. His work will remain a legacy for scholars of Burmese Buddhist law and Myanmar legal studies generally.