Bookshelf Spotlight: Thailand

Featured Books

* Making Fields of Merit: Buddhist Female Ascetics and Gendered Orders in Thailand
* The Tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen
* Through the Eyes of the King: The Travels of King Chulalongkorn to Malaya
* Imagining Siam: A Travellers’ Literary Guide to Thailand
* Gathering Leaves and Lifting Words: Histories of Buddhist Monastic Education in Laos and Thailand
* Islam, Education and Reform in Southern Thailand: Tradition and Transformation

Making Fields of Merit: Buddhist Female Ascetics and Gendered Orders in Thailand

by Monica Lindberg Falk
NIAS Press, 2007

Religion plays a central role in Thai society with Buddhism intertwined in the daily lives of the people. Religion also plays an important role in establishing gender boundaries. The growth in recent decades of self-governing nunneries (samnak chii) and the increasing interest of Thai women in a Buddhist monastic life are notable changes in the religion–gender dynamic.

This anthropological study addresses religion and gender relations through the lens of the lives, actions and role in Thai society of an order of Buddhist nuns (mae chii). It presents an unique ethnography of these Thai Buddhist nuns, examines what it implies to be a female ascetic in contemporary Thailand and analyses how the ordained state for women fits into the wider gender patterns found in Thai society. The study also deals with the nuns’ agency in creating religious space and authority for women. In addition, it raises questions about how the position of Thai Buddhist nuns outside the Buddhist sangha affects their religious legitimacy and describes recent moves to restore a Theravada order of female monks.

NIAS Press | Goodreads | University of Washington Press Review | Amazon

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The Tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen

Translated and edited by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit
Illustrated by Muangsing Janchai
Silkworm Books, 2010

The Tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen is the most outstanding classic in the Thai language. The plot is a love story, set against a background of war, ending in high tragedy. This folk epic was first developed in oral form for popular performance with a fast-paced blend of romance, tragedy, and farce spiced with sex, warring, adventure, and the supernatural. It was later adopted by the Siamese court and written down, with two kings contributing. This first-ever translation is based on Prince Damrong’s standard edition of 1917–18, with over a hundred passages recovered from earlier versions.

This English translation is written in lively prose, fully annotated, with over four hundred original line drawings and an essay on the history and background of the tale. The main volume presents the entire tale in translation. The companion volume contains alternative chapters and extensions, Prince Damrong’s prefaces, and reference lists of flora, fauna, costume, arms, and food. The volumes are available separately or as a slipcased set.

According to the leading Thai linguist William Gedney, “if all other information on traditional Thai culture were to be lost, the whole complex could be reconstructed from this marvellous text.”

Silkworm Books | Khun Chang Khun Phaen Blog | Goodreads | Amazon

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Through the Eyes of the King: The Travels of King Chulalongkorn to Malaya

by P. Lim Pui Huen
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2009

This book takes the reader to old Malaya as seen through the eyes of King Chulalongkorn of Siam. The King was probably the most travelled monarch of his time. He went to Java three times, India and Burma once, and Europe twice. In all these journeys, he had to pass through Singapore, and when he went westwards, he had to pass through Penang.

The King travelled to Malaya more than ten times – mainly to Singapore but also to Johor, Penang, Malacca, Taiping and Kulim. The narrative is told through historical photos and notes on the places he visited and pen sketches of the people he met.

Since King Chulalongkorn’s travels cover nearly the whole period of his reign, they reflect the different stages of his life and reign. We see him first as a young man eager to see the world and preparing himself to rule. Then we see him in middle age, in poor health and taking a respite from the cares of state. Lastly, we see him as a statesman withstanding severe pressures from aggressive British officials.

The context of each journey is discussed in the light of Siam’s relations with Britain and the northern Malay states that were still under Siamese suzerainty. Malaya was both holiday destination and confrontational space.

ISEAS Publishing| Goodreads | Silkworm Books | International Convention of Asia Scholars

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Imagining Siam: A Travellers’ Literary Guide to Thailand

By Caron Eastgate Dann
Monash Institute, 2009

Thailand has been systematically transformed into a classic neocolonial object of Western desire, an easily penetrated erotic zone that caters to the appetites of Western interlopers. In the first comprehensive critical study of Western literature about Thailand, Imagining Siam provides a thorough analysis, using Edward Said’s concepts, of English language travelogues and travel literature. It offers a broad view, covering literary attempts to describe Siam in the 13th century, through the formative phase of Western engagement in the 16th century, the various competing European imperialisms in the 19th century, to today’s era of mass tourism and the global reach of mobile, economically and culturally powerful “First World” populations. This will appeal to those interested in Thailand, critiques of travel writing and the Anna Leonowens legacy.

Goodreads | Amazon | Google Books

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Gathering Leaves and Lifting Words: Histories of Buddhist Monastic Education in Laos and Thailand

By Justin Thomas McDaniel
University of Washington Press, 2008

Gathering Leaves and Lifting Words examines modern and premodern Buddhist monastic education traditions in Laos and Thailand. Through five centuries of adaptation and reinterpretation of sacred texts and commentaries, Justin McDaniel traces curricular variations in Buddhist oral and written education that reflect a wide array of community goals and values. He depicts Buddhism as a series of overlapping processes, bringing fresh attention to the continuities of Theravada monastic communities that have endured despite regional and linguistic variations. Incorporating both primary and secondary sources from Thailand and Laos, he examines premodern inscriptional, codicological, anthropological, art historical, ecclesiastical, royal, and French colonial records. By looking at modern sermons, and even television programs and websites, he traces how pedagogical techniques found in premodern palm-leaf manuscripts are pervasive in modern education.

Goodreads | University of Washington Press | Social Science Research Council | H-Net Review

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Islam, Education and Reform in Southern Thailand: Tradition and Transformation

By Joseph Chinyong Liow
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2009

“This is a remarkable piece of scholarship that illuminates general and specific tendencies in Islamic education in South Thailand. Armed with an enormous amount of rich empirical detail and an elegant writing style, the author debunks the simplistic Orientalist conceptions of Wahhabi and Salafi influences on Islamic education in South Thailand. This work will be a state-of-the-art source for understanding the role of Islam and the ongoing conflict in this troubled region of Southeast Asia. The book is significant for those scholars who are attempting to understand Muslim communities in Southeast Asia, and also for those who want deep insights into Islamic education and its influence in any area of the Islamic world.” – Raymond Scupin, Professor of Anthropology and International Studies Lindenwood University, USA

“Few books address the sensitive issue of Islamic education with empathy as well as critical distance as Joseph C. Liow’s Islam, Education, and Reform in Southern Thailand. He examines global networks of religious learning within a local Thai as well as regional Asian context by brilliantly revealing the intersections between religion, politics and modernity in an accessible and illuminating manner. Traditional educational institutions rarely receive such sensitive and balanced treatment. Liow’s book is a tour de force and mandatory reading for policy-makers, academics and all of those interested in current affairs.” – Ebrahim Moosa, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies, Department of Religion, Associate Director, Duke Islamic Studies Center (DISC), Duke University, USA

“Islam, Education, and Reform in Southern Thailand is Joseph Chinyong Liow’s critical attempt to map out the reflexive questioning, locations of authority, dynamics and contestations within the Muslim community over what constitutes Islamic knowledge and education. Through the optics of Islamic education in Southern Thailand, Liow manages to brilliantly portray the ways in which Muslim minority negotiate their lives in the local context of violence and the global context of crisis of modernity.” – Chaiwat Satha-Anand, Senior Research Scholar, Thailand Research Fund, Author of The Life of this World: Negotiated Muslim Lives in Thai Society

ISEAS Publications |Goodreads | Amazon | Google Books

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