New Releases on Thailand

Wat Jong Klang, Mae Hong Son Province, Thailand

Heritage and Identity in Contemporary Thailand: Memory, Place and Power
Ross King

Heritage and Identity in Contemporary Thailand explores the intersections of memory, place, power and tourism in the production of Thai heritage and identity. The author shows that underlying officially promulgated ideas is a much deeper, richer and sometimes darker substratum of memories and practices that both undermine and enrich conventional ideas of Thailand as a Kingdom, a nation and a culture.

The book views Thai culture and its heritage from a variety of perspectives that are derived from the work of Thai scholars but refracted through a more Western epistemology and its attendant critical theory. Through a juxtaposition of Thai and Western critical scholarship, it highlights key elements of Thai identity or, more accurately, the diversity of Thai identities. In the process, the book raises questions about both Thai and Western thinking about knowledge and its production.

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The Buddha in Lanna: Art, Lineage, Power, and Place in Northern Thailand
Angela S. Chiu

For centuries, wherever Thai Buddhists have made their homes, statues of the Buddha have provided striking testament to the role of Buddhism in the lives of the people. The Buddha in Lanna offers the first in-depth historical study of the Thai tradition of donation of Buddha statues. Drawing on palm-leaf manuscripts and inscriptions, many never previously translated into English, the book reveals the key roles that Thai Buddha images have played in the social and economic worlds of their makers and devotees from the fifteenth to twentieth centuries.Author Angela Chiu introduces stories from chronicles, histories, and legends written by monks in Lanna, a region centered in today’s northern Thailand. By examining the stories’ themes, structures, and motifs, she illuminates the complex conceptual and material aspects of Buddha images that influenced their functions in Lanna society. Buddha images were depicted as social agents and mediators, the focal points of pan-regional political-religious lineages and rivalries, indeed, as the very generators of history itself. In the chronicles, Buddha images also unified the Buddha with the northern Thai landscape, thereby integrating Buddhist and local conceptions of place. By comparing Thai Buddha statues with other representations of the Buddha, the author underscores the contribution of the Thai evidence to a broader understanding of how different types of Buddha representations were understood to mediate the “presence” of the Buddha.

The Buddha in Lanna focuses on the Thai Buddha image as a part of the wider society and history of its creators and worshippers beyond monastery walls, shedding much needed light on the Buddha image in history. With its impressive range of primary sources, this book will appeal to students and scholars of Buddhism and Buddhist art history, Thai studies, and Southeast Asian religious studies.

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Thailand’s Theory of Monarchy: The Vessantara Jataka and the Idea of the Perfect Man
Patrick Jory

Since the 2006 coup d’état, Thailand has been riven by two opposing political visions: one which aspires to a modern democracy and the rule of law, and another which holds to the traditional conception of a kingdom ruled by an exemplary Buddhist monarch. Thailand has one of the world’s largest populations of observant Buddhists and one of its last politically active monarchies. This book examines the Theravada Buddhist foundations of Thailand’s longstanding institution of monarchy. Patrick Jory states that the storehouse of monarchical ideology is to be found in the popular literary genre known as the Jātakas, tales of the Buddha’s past lives. The best-known of these, the Vessantara Jātaka, disseminated an ideal of an infinitely generous prince as a bodhisatta or future Buddha—an ideal which remains influential in Thailand today. Using primary and secondary source materials largely unknown in Western scholarship, Jory traces the history of the Vessantara Jātaka and its political-cultural importance from the ancient to the modern period. Although pressures from European colonial powers and Buddhist reformers led eventually to a revised political conception of the monarchy, the older Buddhist ideal of kingship has yet endured.
The King and the Making of Modern Thailand
Antonio L. Rappa

The making of modern Thailand is grounded in specific political institutions, Brahmanical tropes, sacred Buddhist traditions stylized with Hindu rituals. Over and above these mysterious practices and ancient customs, modern Thailand is a product of the late Great Rama IX Bhumibol Adulyadej. For most Thai people have only known one King. Born in Europe and educated during World War II, Bhumibol was the son of a Harvard medical doctor who had a penchant for jazz music and fast cars. When he returned to Thailand in 1951 to assume his royal duties, he could hardly speak Thai but his French and German were remarkable. Bhumibol had inherited an impoverished country with nothing but symbolic role as a figurehead monarch. He was surrounded by envious courtiers and royals from other families now sidelined by the rise of the Chakri. Scheming generals and authoritarian field marshals were emptying the Kingdom’s coffers. By guile and wit, Bhumibol turned the tide by 1973. He became the most powerful modern warlord in the history of the Kingdom. He survived attempted murder, crafty politicians, corrupt generals, sycophantic courtiers and impoverished masses. When he died on October 13 2016, Bhumibol was already the longest standing monarch in the world. King Bhumibol was deeply respected and well-liked by farang and locals alike. Despite his massive social and economic achievements many problems continue to plague the Kingdom. These are prostitution, human rights issues, pollution, corruption, cronyism in Chinese businesses, border conflicts with Cambodia, and the refugee problem.

This book examines the role of Rama IX and the variegated set of problems that persist in life under the great white elephant and mango trees. Rappa draws from his primary research that includes interviews, surveys and first-hand observations of a remarkable kingdom and a uniquely remarkable king to reveal the internal security threats to democracy and civil society in the oldest Southeast Asian kingdom in late modernity.

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