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Journal of Religion and Violence

Volume 2, Issue 1, 2014

Tim Rackett
Pages 135-167

‘States Of Mind And Exception: Enactments Of Buddhist Ontological Truth And Purification In Thai Religious Nationalism In The Mid 20th And Early 21st Centuries’

The following is a meditation upon a particular nationalist use and performance of Theravada Buddhism. It explores some of the interconnections and interdependencies between religion, identity politics and political violence in Thailand, an exemplary Buddhist nation. Anti-government demonstrators, ‘communists’ in the 1970’s, Muslims in 2004 and ‘Red Shirts’ in 2010, were killed in the name of defending sacred Thai institutions of Nation, Religion and Monarchy. Is Buddhism implicated in such political violence? If so, how does a spiritual practice prohibiting the taking of life lend itself to justifying killing? This article suggests that Buddhism is translated, qua transformed and betrayed, by the Thai State and politics. Buddhist truth, in the thrall of nationalist ideology in times of emergency and national insecurity, can legitimate ‘states of exception’, which suspend the law and moral constraint, making it permissible to kill impure enemies in defense and with good intentions.

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