Date: 10 Sep 2015
Time: 10.00 am - 11.30 am
Venue: ISEAS Seminar Room 2
THAILAND STUDIES PROGRAMME SEMINAR
Since the 1980s, a wide range of new supernatural movements have become highly visible additions to Thailand’s spiritual landscape and religious marketplaces. Seeking supernatural intervention to achieve success, wealth, power and influence, these movements have continued to grow in popularity despite the setback of the 1997 Asian economic crisis and the intense political conflicts that have destabilised Thai society over the past decade. Since the turn of the new century, these cults have moved rapidly from the socio-cultural margins to the centre of national religious practice, being incorporated within state projects under the aegis of Theravada Buddhism.
While there is a growing anthropological literature on the resurgence of supernatural cults in Thailand, and also in Myanmar and Vietnam, political studies have largely overlooked the significance of this phenomenon, with most current research on politics and religion in Asia focusing on the rise of fundamentalist movements in Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Even within anthropology and religious studies, theories of the resurgence of the supernatural in post-Cold War Southeast Asia remain partial, failing to account fully account for why elites in ostensibly “globalising” Asian societies employ new forms of supernaturalism in their contests for influence and power.
To understand how modernity may entail, perhaps even produce, “reenchantment” and how supernatural cults have become central to the exercise of political authority in 21st century Thailand will require interdisciplinary conversations among anthropology, religious studies, cultural studies, history and political studies.
Thongchai Winichakul is Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is currently Visiting Senior Fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
To register, please complete this form and email it to email@example.com by 9 September 2015.