Keynote address for the Association of Mainland Southeast Asia Scholars

Politics and Religion: Kruba Srivichai, the Saint in the Storms of Modern Thailand
Professor Katherine Bowie, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Keynote address for the Association of Mainland Southeast Asia Scholars (AMSEAS)
Asian Studies Association of Australia biennial conference
5-5.45pm, 3 July 2018, University of Sydney

Kruba Srivichai (1878-1939) is the most famous monk of northern Thailand.  Born during a stormy night, northerners came to believe that he was a tonbun, a saintly precursor of Maitreya.  Able to mobilize popular support on an unprecedented scale, Srivichai was involved in the building or restoration of over 100 temples throughout the northern region.  By contrast the Bangkok court viewed him as a rebel leading a millenarian revolt against central Thai authority.  During his lifetime he was detained until temple arrest multiple times.  He was sent to Bangkok for investigation in 1920 and again in 1935-36, the latter arrest leading to the forcible disrobing of some 400 monks and novices.  Prevailing scholarship has attributed his temple arrests to his failure to abide by the Sangha Act of 1902;  however the Sangha Act did not apply to the northern region until 1924.  Even less scholarly attention has paid to the causes underlying his second detention in Bangkok, shortly after the coup of 1932 which established a constitutional monarchy.  My research suggests that the implementation of the Military Conscription Act and the Education Act, each important elements in the process of modern nation-state formation, underlay Srivichai’s arrests.  Srivichai continues to be a political force to the present day.  My discussion will place Srivichai’s controversial biography in the context of the pressures of Thai nation-state formation.

Keynote proudly sponsored by the ANU Southeast Asia Institute & the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre

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