CSEAS Colloquium: Purifying Violence: Buddhist Kingship in Thailand’s New Reign

Title: Purifying Violence: Buddhist Kingship in Thailand’s New Reign
Speaker: Edoardo Siani (CSEAS)

Time: 15:30~16:30
Place: Medium-sized Meeting Room 3F Inamori Building
Date: 23rd January 2020

Public relation campaigns in Thailand’s new reign portray King Maha Vajiralongkorn as a strong military man. Such portrayals are in stark contrast with those of the previous monarch, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej (r. 1946-2016), who is widely remembered as a gentle father figure. With this talk, I explore the iconography of the recently coronated monarch through the lens of Buddhist warrior kingship. Drawing from ethnographic data, I propose that kings are expected to display a willingness and ability to engage in violence early in their reigns. According to prophetic narratives, society fragments during interregnums, leading to cyclical crises. Buddhist kings intervene at such times to bring about an ultimate act of violence, which submits anarchy to their rule. After having put an end to crises, they finally purify their own violence, turning to a more peaceful mode of rule. This cultural context, I argue, sheds some light on the inherently ambiguous nature of kingship in a contemporary Buddhist society.

Edoardo Siani is a program-specific researcher at CSEAS, Kyoto University. He writes about power in Buddhist Thailand, exploring themes such as divination, spirit mediumship and kingship. Edoardo received his PhD in Anthropology and Sociology from SOAS, University of London. A resident of Bangkok since 2002, he previously lectured at Thammasat University, worked in education and consultancy, and served as an interpreter for the Thai police. He has contributed with interviews and op-eds to media outlets including the BBC and The New York Times.