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Project: Buddhism, Spiritual Communities, and Enchated Religious Leadership in Thailand (and Burma)

Mikael Gravers (Associate Professor, Section for Anthropology)

The project investigates a Buddhist lay movement in Northern Thailand under the leadership of charismatic monks. This movement has many followers among the Karen and northern Thai. It has contacts to monks and monasteries in Burma as well.  Research focus is on a modern relationship between monks and lay-people. Monks are organizing civil society and providing development with donation from wealthy urban followers. The leading monks also provide a moral leadership. Ritual practices, construction of temples and pagodas and meditation are important ingredients of this movement. Moreover, it is a political movement aimed at alleviating poverty and empowering Karen from poor villages. They supported exiled PM Thaksin Shinawatra in 2000 and many still hope he will return.


Key concepts are moral leadership, moral and spiritual capital, enchanted subjects, translation of Buddhist ethic into modern political judgment, sacred spaces and secular organization.



Fieldwork has been conducted in Wat Phrabat Huay Tom, Lamphun province; a temple and lay settlement of 10,000 Karen and 300 monks. The temple has a royal project and royal protection. It is a site for pilgrimage and has a  Buddha footprint an a holy spring.


Another part of the project is the role of monks I Burmese politics. Leaders of the young monk’s uprising in 2007 (Saffron Revolution) have been interviewed in Mae Sot, Thailand, where they live in exile. The charismatic monk U Thuzana, who has reorganized civil society in the Karen State is included in the project. It I not possible for me to cross the border, but I may have an opportunity to meet the monk and his followers in Burma.