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Keeping Monks in Their Place?

  • Tomas LARSSON (a1)


This essay explores the extent to which Thailand’s secular legal system reinforces the imagined divide, common in Thai Buddhist conceptions of society, between a “worldly” sphere and the “religious” sphere of the sangha (order of monks). It asks: How far does secular Thai law exclude clergy from the “unmonkly” domains of politics and commerce? It shows that there is a striking discrepancy between the systematic way in which secular Thai law has kept monks from formally participating in “politics” and the rather more permissive way in which it has facilitated participation by the monkhood in the sphere of “commerce.” The essay concludes with some reflections on this finding and the questions it raises.

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Tomas Larsson is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge, and Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge. Correspondence to Tomas Larsson, St John’s College, Cambridge CB2 1TP, United Kingdom. E-mail address: The author wishes to thank Puli Fuwongcharoen for excellent research assistance and Tom Ginsburg, Jacques Leider, and Benjamin Schonthal for helpful comments.



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