Salvation, status, and social action: contemporary configurations of Buddhism and Bangkokian middle class social and political aspirations (2009 – 2011) (completed)
Millennial Bangkok is a complex megalopolis characterised by severe class disparity, seemingly incessant political turmoil, and intense consumer cultures. This study examines the vital intersection of middle class aspirations for political influence and upward social mobility, and contemporary manifestations of Theravada Buddhist philosophy, ideology, and practice. The primary ethnographic foci are Bangkok-based Buddhist sects and movements, sufficiency economy discourse, and such salient phenomena as the recent Jatukham amulet craze. While the drive to acquire consumption-related status distinctions and the struggle for social and political power are inherently worldly pursuits, my research aims to illuminate the tensions and boundaries between religious and secular strivings in urban Thai society, especially when negotiating its all-important stratification system. Related inquiries include the implications of both older and more recent configurations of Buddhism for contemporary debates over democracy, civil society, and governance, and the ways in which notions of Buddhist virtue and morality are deployed to build legitimacy by factions involved in the current political crisis.