Buddhism and politics : the political roles, activities and involvement of the Thai Sangha

Somboon, Suksamran

Political science; Public administration; Philosophy; Religion
May 1979

Thesis or dissertation

© 1979 Suksamran Somboon. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The main purpose of this study is to investigate the interaction of politics with Buddhism and the Sangha (the community of monks) in Thailand. Buddhism is seen as having long served as one of the main socializing, acculturating, and unifying forces in Thai society. It has profoundly influenced the cultural, economic, and political development of the nation, and also reputedly continues to mould the social and political values of the great majority of the Thai population. The Sangha has played a very important role in the social life of almost every Thai. I intend to show that though Buddhism and the Sangha have had complex interactions with politics over a long period of time, recent sociopolitical changes in Thailand have led to the formation and assumption of new roles and a quite unique redefinition of roles for the Sangha. The main force behind this change has been the political development of the Thai state. To acquire a full perspective of the, relation between Buddhism and kingship, Sangha and state, it is necessary to examine the nature of their interactions from early times, and in this I am fortunate in being able to draw on a number of previous works. These earlier studies have their limitations, as will become clear when I consider them in more detail below, for they only take up the topic as a subordinate part of their consideration of other problems, and the most recent of them only bring us up to 1972. The most original part of-this study is therefore the examination of the modern period dating from the late 1950s, especially the period between 1973 and 1976 when I attempt to elucidate the critical political developments and their interrelationship with changes in the Sangha.In this connection, the study attempts to investigate the impact of government controls and directions on the Sangha. I intend to show why since the late 1950s the government has encouraged the Sangha to participate in the execution of government policies and how the Sangha has responded to this political mobilization. I will attempt to establish the degree to which the Sanghah has co-operated with the government. Assuming part of the Sangha is willing to collaborate with the government, I will then attempt to answer the questions: how far can Buddhism and the Sangha provide a positive ideology and assistance for the goal realization of the government and by what methods? Assuming part of the Sangha is not willing to co-operate with the government, I will ask the question: what are the opportunities for the Sangha to retain its place and its traditional status? I will attempt to understand the Sangha's own perception of its roles in this light.Another important area of investigation in this study, is that if some members of the Sangha are not willing to co-operate with the government and react independently to socio-political changes, what are the stimuli for their actions, and what are the opportunities for these monks to retain their place and traditional status? In this, I intend to show how the abrupt socio-political changes during 1973-1976 have resulted in the-assumption and formulation of new and non-traditional roles, and activities by certain groups of monks. I will consider their ideological positions and their perceptions of their roles.

Department of Sociology, The University of Hull
Hill, Lewis G.
Sponsor (Organisation)
Chulalongkonmahawitthayalai; The University of Hull; Ford Foundation
Qualification level
Qualification name
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