A collection of essays engaging with Buddhism in Thailand and the virtues of distraction and variety within the materialist turn in studies of religion.
In Thailand, Buddhism is deeply integrated into national institutions and ideologies, making it tempting to think of Buddhism in Thailand as a textual, institutional, cultural, and conceptual whole. At the same time, religious expression in the country reflects anything but a single order. Often gaudy, cacophonous, variegated, and jumbled, diversity and apparent contradiction abound. A more open engagement with Buddhism in Thailand requires a willingness to be distracted, to step away from received hierarchies and follow the intriguing detail in the ornate design, the odd textual reference, and to prefer “thin description” over a search for meaning. Justin McDaniel’s well-known book-length writings in Buddhist and Theravada studies cannot be fully understood without taking into account his shorter writings, what he calls his wayward distractions. Collected together for the first time, these essays cover subjects ranging from ornamental art to marriage and emotion, the role of Hinduism, neglected gender and ethnic diversity, Buddhist inflections in contemporary art practice, and the boundaries between the living, dead, and undead. These writings will be of importance to students of Theravada and Thailand, of religion in Southeast Asia and more generally, of the materialist turn in studies of religion.