All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Cathleen Cummings

Advisory Committee Members

Jessica Dallow

Catherine Pagani

Document Type

Thesis

Date of Award

2014

Degree Name by School

Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

Officially, Thailand is dominated by the state-sponsored Theravada Buddhist tradition, which has essentially been practiced in Thailand since 1902 when the sangha bureaucracy was established. However, within the last couple of decades a hybrid form of Thai Buddhism has emerged. The contemporary, hybridic Thai religion emphasizes Buddhism--placing it at the top of its hierarchal pyramid--even while it includes elements of Animism and Hinduism. This thesis explores the hybridization of popular religions in contemporary Thailand as reflected in the art form of Sak Yant. Thai Buddhist magical tattoos called Sak Yant are based on ancient Indic yantras that are considered powerful forms meant to ward off negative influences. These tattoos incorporate elements of Hindu, Animist, and Buddhist traditions. In this way, the ideas behind, and practices of, Sak Yant mirror broader changes in the modern religious context of Thailand. The transformation of Sak Yant over time likewise reflects the transformations of Theravada Buddhism in Thailand as it is converged with Animist and Hindu forms. This transformation is revealed by an analysis of the social and religious atmosphere of modern Thailand, a comparative analysis of Indic yantras and their transformation into Sak Yant (including the "Buddha-ization" of the Ramayana into a Southeast Asian "magical text" and Thai Buddhist epic), an analysis of the function of Sak Yant within the needs of modern Thai Buddhists, and how Sak Yant unites the division between rural and state sponsored Buddhism. By deconstructing Sak Yant's form and function, the construction of a modern Thai hybrid Buddhist religion takes shape.

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