Spirit Possession as Buddhist Vocation:
Debates over Piety, Devotion and Charisma in Modern Thai Buddhism
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Jackman Humanities Building, Rm 317
170 St George St
The religious landscape of modern Thailand is filled with a wide variety of non-monastic religious virtuosos advancing unconventional visions of Buddhist piety and devotion. Professional spirit mediums are one example of this religious ferment and cultural creativity. Professional mediums claim to be possessed by virtuous divinities from the upper heights of the Buddhist pantheon who are endowed with great merit and virtue. Thai actors and institutions outside the subculture of professional mediums, however, are often dubious about such claims. In this talk I will explore the claims and counterclaims of these different groups, exploring how these debates illuminate changing ideas about moral propriety, sacral potency, charismatic authority and the practice of piety in contemporary Thai Buddhism.
Erick White is a visiting professor in the Southeast Asian Program at Cornell University. His research explores the cultural politics of popular religion in Thailand, the subculture and religious careers of Bangkok professional spirit mediums, and the socio-cultural dynamics underlying their distinctive claims to Buddhist charismatic authority and legitimacy. He is especially interested in the use of practice theory, social network theory, field theory, and social movement theory in the study of Buddhist beliefs, rituals, organizations, and communities. He is the author of “Fraudulent and Dangerous Popular Religiosity in the Public Sphere: Moral Campaigns to Prohibit, Reform and Demystify Thai Spirit Mediums,” “Contemporary Buddhism and Magic,” “The Institutional Dynamics of the Contemporary Thai Sangha – A New Research Agenda,” and other publications.
Related Reading Group
Contemporary Buddhism and Magic
at McMaster (University Hall 122) on Friday, March 31 from 4-6pm.