Religion, marginality, and addiction in Northern Thailand 

Sophorntavy Vorng

- completed -

This project investigates conversion and missionization, the regional drug problem, and relations with the state among ethnic minority highlanders in Chiang Rai. I explore how government programs implemented through Buddhist monasteries construct Buddhist subjects and realize agendas of national security in border areas, while simultaneously offering development support and access to resources. At the same time, gospel rehabilitation centers 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 investigates the consequences of the global/national war on drugs through a comparative exploration of two religious drug rehabilitation centers, one Buddhist and one Christian, which emerged from the post-opium prohibition era in Thailand. In the process, I consider notions of morality, discipline, individualization, and the structural factors involved in addiction. A further area of research examines the stigmatization of ethnic minority highlanders as drug addicts and traffickers in Thailand. I contend that the construction of these politicized 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 marginalization creates a space for the proliferation of missionary activities in the form of prison ministries and the forms of developmental work by religious organizations.

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