ANFEP Summer 2015: Thailand Seminar Overview

ASIANetwork Faculty Enhancement Program (ANFEP)
Deepening Asian Studies in the Liberal Arts
Seminars in Asia

Funded by the
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

“Thailand: Power, Land, and Belief in a Divided Society”

Thursday, June 11 – Thursday, July 2, 2015

Directors: Dr. Robert Dayley, Political Economy, The College of Idaho
Dr. Bonnie Brereton, Art History, Independent Scholar, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Funded by the Mellon Foundation, the 2015 Thailand Seminar is part of the ASIANetwork Faculty Enhancement Program (ANFEP), Deepening Asian Studies in the Liberal Arts. Fellows in the summer 2015 Thailand Seminar will study past and present interrelations between power, land, and belief in the country’s predominantly Buddhist society. The seminar provides insight into Thailand’s rich history and culture with an eye on explaining the sources of political cleavage that divide its political society today.

Temple Ruins at Sukhothai

Temple Ruins at Sukhothai

2015 Thailand Seminar: Program Details

The 2015 Thailand seminar explores the ancient and modern capitals of the Chao Phraya River Basin (Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, Bangkok), the northern borderlands of the Golden Triangle (Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Chiang Saen), and select rural communities of the Isan, or Northeast (Ubon Ratchathani and Sisaket). The seminar considers historical developments from early Tai and Siamese states to the Chakri Dynasty’s response to European encroachment. It examines the demise of the absolute monarchy in 1932 and the cycles of civilian and military rule that have defined political life since. Of equal curiosity in the seminar are the country’s rapid economic development and struggles with globalization and electoral democracy. We follow three core themes to connect past and present.

Power: We first consider the formation and exercise of power under absolute monarchy, military dictatorship, and parliamentary governance –from Tai muang and Buddhist mandala in the past to Thailand’s current constitutional monarchy and democratic failures. In Thailand, the past still weighs heavily on contemporary struggles over basic law and constitutionalism. Hindu and Theravada Buddhist concepts of power and authority, for example, resonate even as they confront modern ideals of representative government and civil liberties.

Thailand -Emerald Buddha Temple

Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Bangkok

Land: We also consider Thailand as an agrarian frontier society. The connection between people and land over time has influenced identity formation in Thailand’s rural and urban societies. With the frontier now exhausted, land use controversies lie at the heart of today’s policy debates, questions about social justice, and threats to the environment. As both a physical commodity and a socially constructed value, land remains a key contested resource and cultural symbol. The seminar thus focuses on the narratives and structures that connect people, power, and land in the forming of political values, identities, and Thai nationhood itself, past and present.

Belief: Lastly, we keep attention throughout the seminar on belief, ritual, and religion in Thai society. Sourced from many influences, Thai Buddhism is expressed in diverse forms. We survey everyday practices, the mainstream Sangha, socially-engaged monks, Buddhist fundamentalists, and new practices gaining popularity in urban areas. The seminar includes interaction with local and foreign religious experts and Buddhist practitioners.

Travel Expectations:

Red Shirt protests, March, 2010

Red Shirt protests, March, 2010

The Thailand 2015 Seminar begins in Chiang Mai, an enchanting walled city of the bygone Lanna Kingdom. The city is home to over 300 Thai wat and hosted the World Buddhist Council in 1477. After a week of exploring the North and the Golden Triangle region we head to the ancient capitals of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya in Central Thailand. Following a visit to Bangkok we then travel for our third week to the Isan (Northeast) to explore rural Ubon Ratchathani and Sisaket. Our final reflections on how power, land, and belief shape Thailand takes place at Preah Vihear, the disputed Angkor era temple situated on a cliff near the Thai-Cambodian border. Throughout the seminar participants can expect a variety of experiences designed to engage them with Thailand and its people. In addition to “must-sees” such as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, The Grand Palace, and Wat Doi Suthep, we will spend time with experts, NGOs, monks, and others, including homestays in a rural village and Buddhist commune. Accommodations will range from full-service hotels and boutique guest houses to dorm bunks and floor mats. Transportation will include train travel, buses, mini-vans, water taxis, tuk-tuks (motorized trishaw), bicycles, and plenty of walking. The tour will be physically demanding with frequent outdoor activity in heat and humidity. We will be constantly on the move. Participants should prepare for short treks to mountain temples, upland villages, cave shrines, and waterfalls. Throughout the experience the food will be fantastic!

ASIANetwork Faculty Enhancement Program Director
Ronnie Littlejohn, Belmont University 615-460-6494;

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation granting mission is to strengthen and sustain institutions and their core capacities, rather than be a source for narrowly defined projects. As such, they develop thoughtful, long-term collaborations with grant recipients and invest sufficient funds for an extended period to accomplish the purpose at hand and achieve meaningful results.

ASIANetwork, a consortium of approximately 150 North American colleges, strives to strengthen the role of Asian Studies within the framework of liberal arts education to help prepare succeeding generations of undergraduates for a world in which Asian societies play prominent roles.