Seminar: Spirits of Power in 21st Century Thailand: Magic and the Supernatural at the Centre of Political Authority in Thailand
THAILAND STUDIES PROGRAMME SEMINAR
ABOUT THE 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.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Peter A. Jackson is Professor in Thai history and cultural studies in the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific and over the past 30 years he has written extensively on modern Thai cultural history, with special interests in religion, sexuality and critical approaches to Asian histories and cultures. Peter Jackson was editor-in-chief of Asian Studies Review, flagship journal of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, from 2009 to 2012 and he is currently a member of the editorial collective of Hong Kong University Press’s Queer Asia monograph series.
ABOUT THE DISCUSSANT
Thongchai Winichakul is Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is currently Visiting Senior Fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.