Making Fields of Merit: Buddhist Female Ascetics and Gendered Orders in Thailand

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by Monica Lindberg Falk

Religion plays a central role in Thai society with Buddhism intertwined in the daily lives of the people. Religion also plays an important role in establishing gender boundaries. The growth in recent decades of self-governing nunneries (samnak chii) and the increasing interest of Thai women in a Buddhist monastic life are notable changes in the religion–gender dynamic.

This anthropological study addresses religion and gender relations through the lens of the lives, actions and role in Thai society of an order of Buddhist nuns (mae chii). It presents an unique ethnography of these Thai Buddhist nuns, examines what it implies to be a female ascetic in contemporary Thailand and analyses how the ordained state for women fits into the wider gender patterns found in Thai society. The study also deals with the nuns’ agency in creating religious space and authority for women. In addition, it raises questions about how the position of Thai Buddhist nuns outside the Buddhist sangha affects their religious legitimacy and describes recent moves to restore a Theravada order of female monks.

"Monica Lindberg Falk presents an in-depth ethnography of the Mae Chii in Thailand. Her rigorous methodology, which included participant observation by staying at Samnak Chiis (mae chiis’ temples) renders a fine grained ethnology of some groups of the mae chiis." - Rodney Sebastian, Asian Journal of Social Science, 38 (2010)

Prior to her retirement, Monica Lindberg Falk was a research fellow at the Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies at Lund University in Sweden. Her work focuses on gender, religion and social change in Thailand.

Publication year: 2007
300 pp / 234mm x 152mm
23 figures, 1 map, 2 tables
ISBN: 978-87-7694-019-5, Paperback

NIAS Press