THIS paper constitutes an attempt to reconcile—at least for one region of Southeast Asia: central Thailand—one of the discrepancies in analyses of contemporary Theravada Buddhism. The model proposed below—which is the outcome of comparing some of the relevant literature with my own field data—encompasses two distinct sections of society, each holding a different attitude towards Buddhism. The interaction between different interpretations of religion may well be one of the major factors n i the process of religious change in Thailand. Furthermore, this model may be of use for other Theravada Buddhist countries.
Literature on the Subject
A survey of the literature on the practice of religion in Theravāda Buddhist countries reveals what may be a unique situation in the study of religions. Many authors state unequivocally that Theravāda Buddhists adhere to more than one religious tradition. Apart from “otherworldly” Buddhism, these Southeast Asian peoples adhere to other strands of religion, generally classed under rubrics such as “non-Buddhist beliefs,” “folk religion,” “animism,” or “supernaturalism.” Yet, though virtually all authors recognize this situation, there is no consensus in their views on how the different subsystems are interrelated.