Religion, marginality and addiction in Northern Thailand (completed)

Sophorntavy Vorng

This project investigates conversion and missionisation, the regional drug problem, and relations with the state among ethnic minority highlanders in Chiang Rai. I explore how government programmes implemented through Buddhist monasteries construct Buddhist subjects and realise agendas of national security in border areas while simultaneously offering development support and access to resources. At the same time, gospel rehabilitation centres provide much-needed drug treatment services whilst drawing highlanders into transnational spheres of Christian fellowship. 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, as has been previously argued in the literature. Another dimension of the study examines the consequences of the global/national war on drugs through a comparative investigation of two religious drug rehabilitation centres, Buddhist and Christian, which emerged from the post-opium prohibition era in Thailand. In the process, I consider notions of morality, discipline, individualisation, and the structural factors involved in addiction. A further area of research investigates the stigmatisation of ethnic minority highlanders as drug addicts and traffickers in Thailand. I argue that the construction of these politicised ethno-racial discourses plays a key role in ongoing prejudice, discrimination, and the denial of citizenship and other basic human rights by the Thai state toward ethnic minorities. Simultaneously, this situation of marginalisation creates a space for the proliferation of missionary activities in the form of prison ministries and ther forms of developmental work by religious organisations.

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