Religious Diversity and Political Change in Thailand

This is the second of the papers to be presented at the ICGBE at the First Hotel in Bangkok on Feb 1st-2nd, next week.

Religious Diversity and Political Change in Thailand

Abstract

Thailand continues to undergo a process of political modernization, moving from a feudal to a fully-fledged and modernized capitalist society. This is a process that has involved numerous missteps and backward turns – most recently the 2006 military coup and the 2010 massacres – and the dissolution of previously existing cultural and social bonds. Marketization of all regions of the country has brought about changes in land ownership, social relations and gender relations but has not, as yet, brought about changes in religious beliefs or in the relationships between people of different belief systems. The majority Buddhist philosophy has been invigorated by emphasis placed on figures such as the goddess Guan Yin, who is eminently appropriate for the age of plenty, while animist hill tribes people incorporate new ways of life into a flexible and accommodating belief system. Only in the southern provinces bordering Malaysia, where the majority of people are ethnic Malay Muslims, is there a division between people based on religion. A faction of people in the border regions have been agitating for autonomous rule or, at least, an end to unfair and unpleasant treatment by high-handed representatives of the Thai state and their mandate to enforce the longstanding triumvirate of Thai language, Buddhist belief and respect for the monarchy as defining characteristics of citizens. Agitation has led to acts of terrorism and suppression including atrocities on both sides. These divisions are not reflected in any other part of the country, although plenty of other symptoms of division are.

Petcharat Lovichakorntikul and John Walsh, Shinawatra University, January 2014

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