God in the North

The South Asian nation of Sri Lanka ranks among the most religious countries in the world with nearly 99% of residents reporting strong religious convictions. More than two-thirds of the population identify as Buddhist. As such, the religion enjoys a strong influence in Sri Lankan lifestyle, politics, and identity --- some non-Buddhists might contend too much. Hindus and Muslims, clustered in the North and East Provinces, constitute about 12% and 10% respectively. 

 

The Northern Province's town of Jaffna has long since been considered the capital of Tamil culture and intellectualism. In recent memory, Jaffna and its surroundings are best known as the epicenter of the 26-year-long civil war that concluded in 2009. It was here that a protracted conflict between the island's ruthless Buddhist nationalist government and a violent separatist group (The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) escalated in widespread bloodshed. Violence was perpetrated on both sides, and the UN estimates 40,000 civilian deaths alone in the final months of the war.

 

The Northern Province retains a vibrant Christian tradition owing to the historical presence of Dutch, British, and American missionaries who established churches and schools throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. While living in Jaffna during the Spring of 2018, I made an effort to photograph the Christianity that has endured over two centuries.