Transnational religious networks and state formation in Thailand (2010 – 2011) (completed)

Jovan Maud

Expanding upon my PhD research on the popular southern Thai Buddhist 'saint', Luang Pho Thuat, and the impact of cross-border tourism on southern Thai religious life, this study will develop an understanding of transnational religious networks between Thailand and elsewhere in East- and Southeast Asia. In particular, the research will focus upon the impact of ethnic Chinese pilgrimage and patronage, including 'sacred tourism', on religious sites, practices and traditions located within Thailand. Among Chinese networks of East- and Southeast Asia, Thailand has a reputation as a site of spiritual potential. Consequently, Thailand-based ritual specialists, sacred sites, and religious objects are widely sought after and patronised. With rising affluence, increasing intra-Asian tourism, and the growing economic power of Mainland China, the transnational impacts of Chinese patronage are having an ever greater impact on religious and spiritual practices in Thailand.

Rather than focusing on a particular religious tradition, my research will deal with the complex of religious forms and practices produced by the interaction of religious traditions – including Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, folk Taoism and other forms spiritualism – across ethnic and national boundaries.

A central research question is how do such religious networks, and the forms of charisma that infuse them with energy, intersect with state-enforced symbolic orders and technologies of control? In countries such as Thailand, where ethno-nationalist sentiment is strongly connected to the purity of an orthodox Theravada Buddhist order, the proliferation of hybridising transnational spirituality problematises the national order of things. At the same time, however, transnational religious patronage, while introducing a variety of unorthodoxies, may arguably sustain the process of state formation.

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