13 The King and His Cult: Thailand’s Monarch and the Religious Culture

in Religious Transformation in Modern Asia
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Abstract

The king of Thailand is a constitutional monarch and having reigned since 1946, is the world's longest-serving head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history. The king of Thailand is not only the Head of State and of the Armed Forces he is also the Upholder of the Buddhist religion. As a result he is seen as a unifying figure among its people in the political arena but increasingly it seems that a religious cult has developed around the figure of the king. He is a revered man and holds considerable power and influence among the people. Historically the figure of the Thai monarch has been important in keeping the country politically stable and out of a number of conflicts, with the preference of the Thai monarchy on peace and stability rather than conflict. This paper will examine how the country’s religious background set in Theravada Buddhism affects how the figure of the monarch is constructed and increasingly shows similarities with the role of a spiritual leader not only a political one. I will explore the question of how the Buddhist definition of Kingship affects the mythical narrative surrounding the monarch in Thailand. Setting the context from which I shall approach the issue of in what way the Thai people publicly revere their King in not only secular terms but increasingly religious terms. With modernizing transformations taking place in contemporary Thailand it is noticeable though that the country’s religious background is not lost in the shuffle. Theravada Buddhism is still increasingly important in the country’s social, economic and religious identity. But increasingly the figure of the Monarch takes an all-encompassing figure to exemplify the socio-religious values that Thai’s should aspire to.

Religious Transformation in Modern Asia

A Transnational Movement

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