Performing multi-religious ritual in Southern Thailand

by Alexander Horstmann

Working Papers WP 11-05
April 2011
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

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In this article, I follow two ethnographic examples of multi-religious ritual in Southern Thailand in order to show how bodily expressions of identity constitute a privileged terrain for understanding the dramatic performances in which social hierarchies and normative orders are expressed and identities negotiated. Bodily expressions, such as physical movements of the body, gestures, chanting, etc. comprise part of the cultural memory that is inscribed in a participants’ body and communicated in the context of a performance. I use the case of the exchange of prayer gestures and chanting in the “ritual of two religions” annually hold in Tamot, Patthalung and the case of a Muslima who wants to cure her child in a Buddhist temple in Songkhla to illustrate what Hayden has called the simultaneous presence of antagonism and tolerance in multi-religious ritual spaces. Thus, rather than a remainder of solidarity and cohesion, I regard the exchange of bodily expressions as transgressions in a life world where religions are increasingly separated. Following Lambek’s notion of polyphony, I maintain that people in Southern Thailand navigate between the conflicting claims that traditional and orthodox beliefs make upon them without making a final decision for either system.

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