Macquarie University
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The sacred borderland: a Buddhist saint, the state, and transnational religion in southern Thailand

posted on 2022-03-28, 17:52 authored by Jovan Maud
This thesis is a study of religious charisma, the state, place-making and cultural flows in the southern Thai borderland. Based on multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork in Songkhla and Pattani provinces, the thesis provides a historically-grounded anthropological account of popular Buddhism and other, particularly Chinese, religious forms and their relationship to state formation and transnational flow. -- Southern Thailand provides a provocative site for the exploration of these issues. Located a great distance from Bangkok and inhabited by large populations of Malay Muslims and ethnic Chinese, the region occupies a position of ambiguity in the national Thai imaginary. The thesis considers the production of the South itself as a region within the Thai nation-state and the complex manner in which it is figured as being both 'Thai' and 'un-Thai' in everyday constructions. -- As a mechanism to explore the central themes, the thesis focuses on a semimythological monk known as Luang Phò Thuat. Said to have wandered the landscape along the Malay Peninsula during the seventeenth century, he has become the centre of a thriving cult of images and is now one of the most popular Buddhist figures in the South. I argue that this popularity is bound to a certain vision of a unified South and that the narratives of his journeys performatively seek to 'suture' zones belonging historically to Buddhist and Muslim zones of influence. However, rather than assuming that Luang Phò Thuat is solely a figure of colonisation, I argue that, as a 'dhamma ambassador', he also has provides the promise of crossing boundaries as much as maintaining them. -- Continuing the theme of boundary crossing, the thesis also deals with transnational religious flows of pilgrimage and tourism, especially by ethnic Chinese Malaysians and Singaporeans. I argue that the sacred geography produced through figures such as Luang Phò Thuat is utilised by local brokers of religious sanctity to generate and direct tourist flows. In the process, novel religious formations and innovations take place as local and transnational actors negotiate relationships of patronage. I consider the impact these flows have on local religious forms and focus in particular on constructions of 'Chineseness' and 'Thainess' and the roles that they play in mediating cross-border interactions. As I demonstrate, far from undermining the dominant symbols of the Thai state, many aspects of transnational religion contribute to the vision of southern Thailand as a Buddhist zone, and thereby support the process of state formation.


Alternative Title

Buddhist saint, the state, and transnational religion in southern Thailand

Table of Contents

Abstract -- Acknowledgements -- Note on transliteration -- Preface -- Introduction -- Chapter one: In the land of Luang Phò Thuat -- Chapter two: Wither the State : theories of popular religion in Thailand -- Chapter three: Southern Thailand and the metonymics of place -- Chapter four: The royal lord : Somdet Jao Pha Kao and Satingphra -- Chapter five: Suturing the State : Luang Phò Thuat and Pattani -- Chapter six: The Dhamma ambassador : the making of a Thai Bodhisattva -- Chapter seven: Devoted tourism : the transnaitonal sacred in southern Thailand -- Chapter eight: Monuments, mediums & the municipality : constructing Chineseness and sacred space in Hat Yai -- Chapter nine: On the limits of hybridity : foreign Chinese participation in a Theravada Buddhist ceremony in Songkhla -- Conclusion : The Bodhisattva and the boderland -- Appendix 1: Guest arrivals at accomadation establishments in Hat Yai, Janurary-March 1999 -- Glossary of terms -- References.


Bibliography: p. 405-428 December 2007

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Macquarie University, Division of Society, Culture, Media & Philosophy, Department of Anthropology

Department, Centre or School

Dept. of Anthropology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Annette Hamilton

Additional Supervisor 1

Kalpana Ram


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Jovan Maud 2008.




Thailand Malaysia


xxiv, 428 p. ill. (some col.), maps, ports

Former Identifiers

mq:13763 1439696