Based on the fieldwork conducted in Bangkok, this research focuses on the daily Buddhist practice, mainly among the middle class in Bangkok. Nowadays practice has been a key concept for Thai urban Buddhists, which means practising (Patibad in Thai) personally beyond only believing in the teaching of Buddha. Based on the data collected in the fieldwork, it tries to explore whether Buddhism reform movements in Thailand have effectively produced forms of self-centered practice such as various body techniques on the one hand, and new forms of religious publicity on the other hand in response to modernization and urbanization.
Since the 1950s, along with the rapid city-based economic growth and popularization of high education inThailand, it has emerged modern urban middle class in Bangkok. They are well-educated professionals, technically trained officials and middle-echelon businessmen, and community for them is “constituted by a variety of informal and formal associations” compared to space-bound community in rural society. At the same time the rise of Buddhism reform movements has developed new forms of Buddhist practice in urban area, emphasizing rational individual practice instead of obedience to the authority of state-built Sangha system. The advocates believe that these new forms of individual practice would collectively produce the religious publicity to challenge the state power and hence promote political democracy inThailand.
This research aims to examine the relationship between individualization caused by Buddhist practice of the urban middle class in Bangkok and the publicity possibly produced by such practice. On the other hand, it would provide new references to how the new kinds of religious organizations, worldviews and public discourses derived from the Buddhism reform movements have been actively responding to the challenge the Thai society is facing during the modernization.
During my stay at IIAS, I hope to make progress on the thick description of the Buddhist practice of urban middle class in Bangkok in the end. The thick description will try to answer and analyze the following issues: (1) How the urban middle class have emerged in Thailand during the social transformation since the 1970s and how they are defined; (2) How the individuals from the urban middle class practise Buddhism in their everyday life, such as reading, chanting, meditation, making merits, group learning and taking religious course; (3) How they use body techniques, such as sixteen steps of breathing–meditation, to improve their religious experience and meaningful life; (4) How the Buddhist practices of the individuals are interwoven with their worldviews and their understanding of the social reality; (5) How the urban middle class build social relationship through Buddhist practices, that is, how the Buddhist practice centers as institutions play a role to help believers establish social connection and producing public discourses; (6) How the individuals participate in religious volunteer service or other public activities; (7) Through the above-mentioned dimensions, how the Buddhism reform movements are changing people’s everyday life and their basic understanding of the meaning of Buddhism and life.
In short, this research focuses on the influence of Thai Buddhist transformation in response to social transformation over individual experience and the public life to enrich the theoretical discussion of the relationship between religion and modernity.
For more about my activities and publication, see my IGEA webpage here: http://igea.muc.edu.cn/en/Newshow.asp?NewsId=36