As I go through the process of pruning my book manuscript in order to deliver to the publisher, I will occasionally post a few sections that I had to cut, but which for reasons obvious, obscure, or inane I have decided to somehow preserve.
Today’s excision is a note about the ways in which scholars of Theravada Buddhism have talked about ‘syncretism’ in Buddhism in Southeast Asia:
Kitiarsa offers an excellent review of the literature on the ‘problem’ of Southeast Asian Buddhism (Kitiarsa 2012). Instead of syncretism, Kitiarsa describes Thai Buddhism as a ‘vigorous hybrid,’ a genetic metaphor, and adds in the notion that it is the widespread commodification of everyday life, and the transformation of perceived needs, that drives modernizing religious difference (Kitiarsa 2012, 2, 31-33, 19). Peter Skilling has also adopted the word hybrid, though in a linguistic mode, specifically to avoid the notion of ‘syncretic,’ emphasizing the creative agency involved in the creation of such hybrids (Skilling 2007, 208 n.2). While I prefer the linguistic metaphor to the genetic one, both appear to suffer from the assumption that we might somehow access an originally pure and non-hybridized tradition.
Kitiarsa, Pattana. 2012. Mediums, monks, and amulets: Thai Popular Buddhism. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Skilling, Peter, Jason A. Carbine, Claudio Cicuzza, and Santi Pakdeekham, eds. 2012. How Theravada is Theravada?: Exploring Buddhist identities. Bangkok: Silkworm Books.