State, Religion, and Transnationality in the Golden Triangle

by Sophorntavy Vorng

Working Papers WP 15-11
September 2015
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

Full text: pdf

Research among ethnic minorities in highland Southeast Asia tends to focus on issues of integration and/or resistance. Arguing for a more nuanced theoretical framework, this article examines the role of religion, state and transnationality in shaping modes of inclusion in northern Thailand. The discussion is based on a comparative exploration of Buddhist and Christian approaches to the regional illegal drug trade. Government outreach and development programs implemented through Buddhist monasteries aim to construct loyal Buddhist subjects and realise agendas of national security in unstable border areas. Yet, they also offer channels for upward social mobility through education and cultural citizenship. Meanwhile, Christian gospel rehabilitation centres working in the region provide otherwise inaccessible addiction treatment services whilst simultaneously drawing ethnic minority individuals into transnational spheres of fellowship. Consequently, I argue that the relationship between ethnic minorities and the state can be defined in terms of aspiration and negotiation, as well as resistance and evasion.

Keywords: religion, conversion, ethnic minorities, state, transnationality, addiction, Thailand  

Sophorntavy Vorng is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity. She is currently conducting research on religion, marginality and drug abuse in northern Thailand. Her other scholarly interests include urban space and politics, consumption and identity, aspirations and status inequality, and contemporary Buddhist belief and practice.