Lecture by Thomas Borchert: Bloody Amulets and False Monks: Legal Pluralism and Problems in the Governance of Theravada Monks in Thailand and Southwest China

WhenJanuary 14, 2020 4:30 PM - 5:30 PM
WhereSwift Hall, Common Room
Contact InformationDivinity School
DescriptionLecture by Thomas Borchert of The University of Vermont: "Bloody Amulets and False Monks: Legal Pluralism and Problems in the Governance of Theravada Monks in Thailand and Southwest China"

This is the third in the series, The Jun Zhou Lectures in Theravada Buddhism, and will take place on TUESDAY January 14, 4:30pm, Swift Common Room.

It is well-known that the actions of Buddhist monastics are governed by the vinaya. The 227 rules of the Pali vinaya require that Theravada monks dress, walk, speak and act in certain ways, fostering a particular vision for what a “proper” monastic looks like. However, the vinaya only covers a fraction of the processes and mechanisms through which monastics are disciplined and governed. Throughout the Theravada world, monastics are also subject to secular legal systems, ecclesiastical law, as well as the force of lay-monastic interactions. While discussion about these legal systems often refers to the ultimate authority of the “dhamma-vinaya” in matters of behavior, in the actual experiences of monastics, there can be real tensions between these formal and informal legal regimes. These tensions sometimes cause problems for monks as they work through these contradictions, as well as for sangha governing structures. This paper will examine the conditions of legal pluralism in both Thailand and Southwest China, focusing around two recent problems faced by their respective sanghas: how to respond to the political activism of the now-disrobed monk, Buddha Issara, and how to keep the sangha free of imposters. Both of these point to the limits of sangha self-governance in Thailand and Southwest China as a result of the conditions of legal pluralism.

Bio: Thomas Borchert is Professor of Religion and Director of Asian Studies at the University of Vermont. His research focuses on the experiences of monks in contemporary Thailand and Southwest China, particularly at the intersection of secular and religious governing structures. He is the author of Educating Monks: Minority Buddhism on China’s Southwest Border (University of Hawai’i Press, 2017) and the editor of Theravada Buddhism in Colonial Contexts (Routledge 2018). His current research is focused on questions of citizenship and Islamophobia within the Thai Sangha. He received his Ph.D. in the History of Religions from the University of Chicago Divinity School in 2006.

The Divinity School is pleased to offer a series of six lectures on various topics in Theravada Buddhism during the 2019-2020 academic year. This series of six lectures on Theravada Buddhism is supported through a generous gift by Mr. Jun Zhou.
CategoriesConferences/Lectures, Lectures
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