Benjamin Baumann, M.A.
Benjamin Baumann, M.A.
PhD Candidate
The ritual reproduction of "Khmerness” in Thailand – Popular Religion and Social Structure in the Thai periphery

Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften der Humboldt Universität zu Berlin
Seminar für Südostasien-Studien
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D - 10115 Berlin
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Tel.: +49 (0)30 2093 - 6639
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The Ritual Reproduction of "Khmerness" in Thailand - Popular Religion and Social Structure at the Nation-State's Periphery



Ethnicity, the historically constituted and dialectic social classification according to ethnic categories, serves as a structuring principle in the plural societies of modern Southeast Asia. According to its premises and analogously to the premises of social class in class-based societies, relative positions in those societies' hierarchical social structures are assigned. Current studies indicate that popular religion, perceived as a cultural marker of social groups, is becoming more and more important in these processes of internal and external ascription of identity. Popular religion and especially the ritual practices that go along with it thus represent crucial elements in the dialectical constitution of ethnic groups in modern Southeast Asia.

Particularly the Thai-Khmer, who until recently were classified as an 'invisible minority' by social scientists, are inseparably associated with magic, spirit cults, and Brahmanism in Thailand's public discourse. Ambiguity characterizes the public's dealing with these  popular religious forms which command a great deal of spiritual potency as local traditions while at the same time representing deviations from an imagined orthodox Theravada Buddhism. This research project aims at exploring the local conceptions of magic, spirit cults, and Brahmanism as well es their respective ritual practices in Buriram province and correlating them with the ethnic self identification as Thai-Khmer. The analytical concept of 'ethnic  habitus', in analogy to the concept of 'class habitus' in class-based societies, thereby serves to characterize the practical and embodied dimension of social identity. The project's core question is whether an ethnic habitus is constituted through ritual practices and in what ways popular religious rituals contribute to the reproduction of ethnic boundaries in this local socio-cultural context.

Article from Benjamin in Kyoto Review, click here...