The Council on Southeast Asia Studies Seminar presents
Erick White, Independent Scholar:
“Spirit Possession in Buddhist Southeast Asia.”
Spirit possession was typically ignored by the early scholars of Southeast Asian Buddhism. A seeming relic of pre-Buddhist religiosity, it resided in the shadows of already marginal religious phenomenon such as spirit cults, divination and magic. Since the 1990s, however, an increasing number of scholars have re-examined spirit mediums and spirit possession in mainland Southeast Asia as thoroughly modern and contemporary phenomenon. A new edited volume, Spirit Possession in Buddhist Southeast Asia: Worlds Ever More Enchanted, builds on this work by bringing together multiple generations of scholars in order to explore spirit possession within an explicitly regional frame. As a contributor to this collection, in this talk I will discuss how these case studies challenge us to reinterpret the history and meaning of spirit possession in mainland Southeast Asia, to rethink the character and dynamics of Buddhism in the region, and to reassess the religious dynamics of contemporary Southeast Asian society and culture.
Erick White previously taught at Antioch University, Cornell University, and the University of Michigan. His research explores the cultural politics of popular religion in Thailand, the subculture and religious careers of Bangkok professional spirit mediums, and the socio-cultural dynamics underlying claims to authority and charisma in Theravada Buddhism. He is the author of numerous book chapters and journal articles, including: “Contemporary Buddhism and Magic,” “The Cultural Politics of the Supernatural in Theravada Buddhist Thailand,” “Rethinking Vernacular Religion Across Mainland Southeast Asia,” “Rethinking Anthropological Models of Spirit Possession and Theravada Buddhism,” and “Fraudulent and Dangerous Popular Religiosity in the Public Sphere: Moral Campaigns to Prohibit, Reform and Demystify Thai Spirit Mediums.” He is currently drafting a book manuscript tentatively titled “Spirit Possession as Buddhist Vocation: Reimagining Piety in Modern Thailand.”