The Politics of Contemporary Thai Buddhism: Perpetual Crisis and the Eternal Quest for the Upholder
THAILAND STUDIES PROGRAMME SEMINAR
About the Seminar
The past two decades have been a time of turmoil in Thailand’s religious affairs. Disputes, debates and controversies concerning the administration of Buddhism, Thailand’s national religion by tradition, have erupted more and more frequently. Tensions have escalated as the Sangha – the Buddhist monastic order – has found itself at odds with government authorities. Monks’ growing inclination to concern themselves with politics and the rise of a “Buddhism protection movement” have displeased sections of the Thai establishment. As a result, the Thai state has recently sought to assert more control over Buddhist affairs in general and the Sangha in particular.
Such tensions and the uncertain prospects for the administration of Buddhism have provoked sentiments of “Buddhism in crisis” among members of the Thai public. But this sentiment is not new. The discourse of religious crisis in Thailand is at least four decades old. It holds that people’s lack of faith, monks’ misconduct and the state’s incompetence to uphold the once-revered religion have weakened Thai Buddhism.
Various concerned parties have advanced proposals to conduct an institutional reform that will restore Thai Buddhism to its utmost revered status. However, no broad consensus on measures for a Buddhist reformation has ever emerged. This lack of consensus is the background to recent developments in Thailand’s Buddhist affairs, which have seen various contending political forces struggling to effect implementation of their own version of religious reform. This struggle over religion mirrors Thailand’s changing national politics.
About the Speaker
Dr Katewadee Kulabkaew is a Visiting Fellow with the Thailand Studies Programme at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, She received her doctorate from the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies of Waseda University, Tokyo, in 2013. She was a member of the faculty of the Department of Southeast Asian Studies of Walailak University, Nakhon Si Thammarat, before joining the BBC Thai Service in London in 2015. She is currently an independent scholar with research interests focusing on the politics of Thai Buddhism.