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Buddhism, democracy and power in the 1932 Thai Revolution

Subrahmanyan, A. (2016) Buddhism, democracy and power in the 1932 Thai Revolution. Asian Studies Review, 41 (1). pp. 40-57.

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The People’s Party toppled the Siamese absolute monarchy and introduced constitutional democracy in Thailand in June 1932. Scholars have generally denied that the revolution had any popular resonance, but this article shows that in Buddhism, the country’s premier cultural form, democratic rhetoric in the 1930s resonated among young monks marginalised by the ecclesiastical hierarchy. A group of young monks within the Mahanikai, or Great Order, rebelled against the palace-established Thammayut order that exercised the most power in institutional Buddhism. A “thin” or formal democracy established in 1932 – one displaying the main trappings of a regime of popular sovereignty but purposefully limited in scope by the People’s Party – thus inspired an assertion of a “thick” democracy, or democracy as a much older social value that governed both the Sangha internally and its relations with local communities, which the Mahanikai activists claimed was the core of original Buddhism.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Publisher: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
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