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About the Seminar
The conventional wisdom holds that "the influence of classical political liberalism is extraordinarily limited" in Southeast Asia (Rodan & Hughes 2014) – and Thailand is no exception. Yet liberalism’s sorry fate in Southeast Asia in general and Thailand in particular has largely been taken for granted by scholars, with few puzzling over its causes or questioning its veracity. An intellectual history of liberalism has therefore yet to be written for Southeast Asia (unlike, say, for South and East Asia). Aiming to add one small piece to the larger regional jigsaw, this talk seeks to answer some basic questions about liberalism in Thailand. Does Thailand have a liberal tradition? To what extent have Western liberal thinkers captured the imagination of Thai intellectuals? Is Thailand now ripe for liberalism? It argues that the history of political thought in Thailand does not contain a well defined liberal “stream" (krasae); that Rousseau is the only Western liberal thinker who has "made it" in Thailand; and that the current political context – defined by intense political polarization, intractable conflict, conservative overreach, and the end of the reign of King Bhumibol – has stimulated some Thai intellectuals to begin laying the ideological groundwork for a (more) liberal future for the Thai nation.
About the Speaker
Tomas Larsson is Visiting Fellow at the Thailand Studies Programme at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. His research interests include Southeast Asian and especially Thai politics, political economy, and Buddhism and politics. He earned his PhD in Government from Cornell University in 2007, and he won the 2008 American Political Science Association’s Walter Dean Burnham award for best dissertation in Politics and History. He is the author of Land and loyalty: Security of the development of property rights in Thailand (Cornell University Press 2012). His recent articles have appeared in The Journal of Peasant Studies, Asian Journal of Law and Society, Modern Asian Studies, and Asian Politics & Policy. At Cambridge, he teaches courses on democracy and dictatorship in Southeast Asia, comparative politics of religion, and case study research methods. He has followed Thai politics in different capacities for 30 years: as an undergraduate studying Thai at Lund University; as a journalist based in Thailand from 1990 to 2000; and since then as a scholar.
About the Seminar
After a Siamese king has died, and when his successor wants to honour him, the corpse will be embalmed and it may take more than a year before the remains will be cremated. A lengthy duration of time is needed to prepare for his festive “send off” from the world which includes a seven-day ritual involving thousands of participants, fireworks and popular entertainment, and the erection of a tall building representing the Buddhist cosmic mountain of Meru. The cremation will eventually take place in this recreation of Meru.
On the day of the cremation, an urn with the royal remains is placed on top of a massive four-wheeled catafalque and it will be transported slowly towards the Meru. Up till recently, the catafalque was preceded by more than seventy drays with depictions of mythological animals that lived at the foothills of Meru. Coins were scattered in the crowd and thousands of Buddhist monks received alms. Six such rituals are described in detail in the Royal Annals, and the height of the Meru––the tallest reaching a dizzying 120 metres––is mentioned in these accounts.
Various European accounts will also be referred to, the earliest dating from the mid-sixteenth century. Special attention will be given to a recently discovered scroll in the Dresden State Art Collections, which depicts the cremation of King Phetracha on 26 December 1704. It shows key elements of the ritual and adds to our knowledge of this extraordinary ceremony that involves a complex chain of events.
This talk will prepare us to what we may expect later in the year in Bangkok where the more than 500 year tradition is expected to be adhered to.
About the Speaker
Barend Jan Terwiel, born 1941, was educated in Utrecht and Canberra. He did fieldwork in Mainland Southeast Asia and Northeast India. He held senior positions in universities in Australia, Germany and The Netherlands. In 2006 he retired from the Chair of Thai and Lao Languages and Literatures in Hamburg University. He has written extensively on Thai history, on Buddhism, and on the Tai peoples. Best known are his books The Ram Khamhaeng Inscription: the Fake that didn’t come true (2010), Thailand’s Political History from the 13th century to recent times (2011), and Monks and Magic (2012). Most of his journal articles can be accessed on academia.edu.
Prior to Columbia, Paul was a research affiliate at the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre (SSEAC), University of Sydney. He was also a researcher at the Australian National University working on the role of norm entrepreneurs in anti-nuclear politics. Paul holds a PhD in Political Science & International Relations from the ANU, and postgraduate degrees in development studies and international affairs from Cambridge University and Columbia University. Previously, Paul worked as a policy analyst at Thailand's Office of the National Security Council.
ABOUT THE SEMINAR
Despite repeating his reluctance to remain in power, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand's Prime Minister and National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta, appears to be in no hurry to leave office. The rejection of the draft constitution by the junta-appointed National Reform Council in early September has effectively delayed the next general election until mid-2017 at the earliest. This was possibly due to the junta’s realization that the charter would likely to fail to win approval in a referendum, as Thailand’s two major political parties had made clear their objections to its contents. The junta will now need time to arrange for the formulation of a new constitution.
In the meantime, the junta has revived suppressive measures against its critics. Public discontent with the NCPO, however, continues to grow because basic human rights are curbed and the economy hasfailed to improve. Adding to these factors is the Thai authorities’ handling of the Bangkok shrine bomb blast in August, which has further eroded Thailand’s international credibility. The national police chief finally admitted that the blast was linked to the Thai government’s forced deportation of Uighurs to China. Thais have thus begun to realize that the military government’s poor handling of diplomatic and security matters has put Thailand at risk from transnational terrorism.
This seminar will argue that the prolongation of the NCPO's time in office has, together with growing public discontent, become a challenge to the junta rather than an opportunity for it to consolidate the power. For the junta and the old establishment, making the successful transition from a junta regime to one founded on a constitution that will allow elite domination of a majoritarian electoral system with a degree of legitimacy appears to be increasingly difficult.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Puangthong R Pawakapan is Associate Professor in the International Relations Department, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University. Her recent publication is State and Uncivil Society in Thailand at the Temple of Preah Vihear, published by Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), Singapore, 2013. She was Visiting Senior Fellow at Thailand Studies Programme at ISEAS from July 2014-January 2015. Between August 2010-June 2011, she was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Shorenstein Asia Pacific Research Center, Stanford University, when she researched on the territorial dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over the Preah Vihear Temple. Between May 1998-1999, she was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Cambodian Genocide Program, Yale University, where she wrote “Thailand’s Response the Genocidal Regime”, in Sue Cook (ed.), Genocide in Cambodia and Rwanda: New Perspectives, (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 2006).
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.
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