This article takes up Talal Asad’s suggestion that studies of law and religion should reject the modern/non-modern binary and instead consider the “fragmented cultures” and “hybrid selves” associated with constantly changing social circumstances. The article begins with a seemingly bizarre incident that occurred during Thai street protests in March 2010. Tens of thousands of rural demonstrators splashed their own blood on Bangkok’s public buildings to curse the ruling government and its legal and political institutions. An explanation of the demonstrators’ controversial actions is found in their reaction against efforts of the central Thai ruling elite over the past century to modernize Thai law, rationalize its religious administration, and eliminate rival systems in outlying regions. These efforts, in turn, are placed in the context of a centuries-old tradition of law, kingship, and religious purification through which Thai rulers centralized their power and demonstrated their legitimacy. The street protests in 2010 represented a failed attempt by rural workers simultaneously to claim their place in the Thai nation and to challenge its hegemony, to assert their rights under modern law, and to invoke pre-modern legal norms and identities.
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