New publication

I was just at the “Imagining Cambodia” conference at Northern Illinois University this last weekend, which was a great success; so many excellent presentations. My own paper, “Nuon Chea’s New Buddhism,” was a presentation of an in-process paper on Nuon Chea and his attitudes toward Buddhism, drawing largely on my 2005 interview with him at his home in Pailin. I’ll note here when that paper is submitted for publication.

In my email this morning I was informed that my latest publication, “Khmer spirits, Chinese bodies: Chinese spirit mediums and spirit possession rituals in contemporary Cambodia,” was published today in an edited volume from Thomas A. Reuter and Alexander Horstmann, titled, Faith in the future: Understanding the Revitalization of Religions and Cultural Traditions in Asia. It represents a tentative new direction for myself, and explores the concepts of neak ta  and their common characteristics in Cambodia, especially as regards multi-ethnic contexts.

Here is a photo of one of the two mediums discussed in the paper.

Bentougong from Pailin

One of the two mediums’ performances discussed in the paper

LTO Cambodia, Chinese Death Rituals, and Stupid Stupid Laws

I recently discovered LTO Cambodia, a blog describing itself merely as “A Barang in the Land of the Khmer.” I’m so grateful to the author of that blog for photoblogging the excellent, excellent – looking exhibit of old maps of Kampot at the French Cultural Center.  They even tagged and labeled some of the old maps with contemporary locations! Oh, the nerdvana of this!

The photo below is from that post. Click here to see the whole post.

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More on Elizabeth Becker’s comments on the NGO Law

Hey, you wanna can of worms?  Elizabeth Becker, journalist and long-time Cambodia watcher, including author of  When the War Was Over, recently opened one, when she criticized the new draft NGO law in Cambodia, shortly to become, in all likelihood, enacted law.  In that letter, titled, “Silencing Cambodia’s Honest Brokers,” she identifies NGOs as among the last of Cambodia’s ‘honest brokers,’ and places the entire story in the somewhat personal framework of her witness to the important Paris Peace Agreement.

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Vann Nath in coma

picture from

The terrible news about Vann Nath – survivor of S-21/Tuol Sleng, painter, and incredibly gracious man – is that he apparently had a heart attack on Friday, has slipped into a coma, and is unlikely to awaken.  This is not unexpected news – he’s been suffering from poor health for a long time now – but it is terribly sad nonetheless. [Phnom Penh Post story]. La cercle des amis de Vann Nath passed on this note from Cambodia’s greatest filmmaker, Rithy Panh (English version below):

Dear Friends,

I would like to share with you these very sad news about Vann Nath. He had a heart attack during Friday night in Phnom Penh. He lost conscience and did not wake up till now. He went into a cerebral coma. He is fighting and his family with him but the doctors have little hope regarding his chance to come to back to us. I will let you know if anything happens.

Sincerely, Rithy Panh

May his passing be peaceful and free of pain, and may those who love him find their way through the loss.

Update 31 August 2011

It appears that the world is now awaiting Vann Nath’s passing. “Tuol Sleng Survivor on Death Bed,” in the Phnom Penh Post.

Update 5 September 2011

Mr. Vann Nath has passed on. Rest In Peace.

Update 12 September 2011

Director, and friend of Mr. Vann Nath, Rithy Panh created a lovely eulogy for his funeral.

You left too early.
We know of some thick-skinned bastards who are indestructible
YOU knew how to confront them.
We know of some hypocrites who have a ready tongue and insult memory with their indecent words.
YOU knew how to respond to them.

You can read the whole thing here.

Bhikkhu Ñanamoli’s translation of the Visuddhimagga: The Path of Purification

A new edition of Bhikkhu Ñanamoli‘s excellent rendition/translation of the great monk Buddhaghosa‘s Visuddhimagga: The Path of Purification, is available as a free pdf download from the Buddhist text website Access To Insight. I must admit that I find this book to be a sort of key to Buddhist philosophy. It’s amazing.

And it’s fantastic that this new edition is available as a free download.

“The Visuddhimagga is the ‘great treatise’ of Theravada Buddhism, an encyclopedic manual of Buddhist doctrine and meditation written in the fifth century by the great Buddhist commentator, Bhadantacariya Buddhaghosa. The author’s intention in composing this book is to organize the various teachings of the Buddha, found throughout the Pali Canon, into a clear and comprehensive path leading to the final Buddhist goal, Nibbana, the state of complete purification. In the course of his treatise Buddhaghosa gives full and detailed instructions on the forty subjects of meditation aimed at concentration, an elaborate account of the Buddhist Abhidhamma philosophy, and detailed descriptions of the stages of insight culminating in final liberation” [summary from the back cover of the BPS edition]. [PDF]

Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment

I teach the Stanford Prison Experiment in my class on Ritual; I also consider it one of the most astonishing and insight-producing (as well as horribly immoral, something the researchers themselves realized in the middle of the experiment) psychology experiment of the second half of the Twentieth Century.  In addition to the documentary on the experiment, Zimbardo’s recent book on it, and the light it can shed on the Abu Ghraib atrocities (at the time of publication, these were still considered somehow ‘exceptional’ by most), Standford Alumni magazine released a sort of oral history of the experiment, interviewing many of the participants.


Notice: Southeast Asia Digital Library Videos!

An email on the Thai/Laos/Cambodia Studies Group mailing list alerted me to this amazing new archive from Northern Illinois University (NIU): The “Living Memory of the Khmer” video interview project. This will be of enormous value to a great number of people: historians, researchers, linguists, and anthropologists, of course, but also to students of the Khmer language, who can use these videos to get a sense of the way people actually speak.

Just fantastic; make sure to also check out the photo archives, such as Cambodian Then and Now.

SEADL Repository | Southeast Asia Digital Library.