Thailand’s population is between 93 and 96 percent Buddhist, and Buddhist institutions have been socially and royally supported for over one thousand years, making Thailand one of the most dynamic places to experience Buddhist practice, interact with Buddhist art, and investigate Buddhist literature and history. However, until the late 20th century, scholarly work on Siamese/Thai Buddhism had been relatively lacking in comparison to work on Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Japan, and Tibet. After that period, scholars started taking advantage of Thailand’s relative peace and economic stability to undertake research that was proving more difficult in places like Burma, Laos, and Cambodia in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Perhaps the greatest contribution from both Thai and non-Thai scholars to Buddhist studies more broadly is in the field of anthropology. Classic works have gone far in mapping the ritual and performative aspects of modern Thai Buddhism. While anthropologists have generally dominated the field of Thai Buddhist studies, textual, monastic, art, liturgical, and institutional history have benefitted from the exploration of both Pali and Thai manuscripts, as well as royal and clerical administrative documents. Many of these sources were exposed by the recently deceased and highly influential Japanese scholar Yoneo Ishii. Scholars of art history and epigraphy have also influenced the study of Buddhism in Thailand, with Penth, Woodward, Griswold, Pattaratorn, and others helping to write the history of the movement of styles, schools, and techniques throughout the region. The contributions of Thai Buddhist studies to the fields of Buddhism and politics, and gender and Buddhism, have also grown recently, attracting new students and scholars to the field. Perhaps the least studied aspects of Thai Buddhism are Thai Buddhist modern literature and premodern vernacular manuscript studies. For other sources relevant to studies in Thai Buddhism, see the Oxford Bibliographies articles on Theravada and Buddhism in Southeast Asia.
Early on, most studies of Thai Buddhism were derivative of research done in Sri Lanka or were purely textual studies that looked at the Pali canon and its early commentaries. Many scholars have looked closely at Pali texts. There are few general studies that focus on Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia other than Swearer 2010 (originally published in 1995), which although focusing on northern Thailand makes a number of broader points about shared regional practices, and Bechert 1966–1967, which focuses on Burma and Sri Lanka but has sections on Thailand and Laos. Further, Keyes 1977, while not produced by a Buddhist Studies scholar, offers a cultural study of Theravada Buddhist communities. Padmanabh S. Jaini produced several important studies, translations, and editions of Pali works in Southeast Asia. Wells 1982 (originally 1960) is still a reliable classic. Pichard and Lagirarde 2003 and Lagirarde and Paritta 2006, two edited volumes, have respectively contributed much to our knowledge of the intricacies and intimacies of Theravada communities in the region. Berkwitz, et al. 2008, another edited volume, is largely focused on South and Southeast Asia, and the contributors show how texts operate in dynamic historical and social contexts over time. Skilling 2009 is the most comprehensive and well-researched general study to date. Some of the best general studies of Theravada Buddhism are produced by art historians, but this subject area is beyond the scope of this entry. However, a good place to start the study of modern Thai Buddhist art would be Taylor and Ly 2012. Cross-disciplinary approaches, meanwhile, combining art historical, anthropological, and textual evidence are rare. Finally, two forthcoming volumes are of interest. In 2012 and 2013, Peter Skilling and Jason Carbine will release a collected volume with several articles focused on Thai Buddhism titled How Theravada is the Theravada? In addition, Peter Skilling and Justin McDaniel will publish two volumes of collected articles called Buddhist Narrative, which will include several chapters focusing on Thai Buddhist texts.
Bechert, Heinz. Buddhismus, Staat und Gesellschaft in den Ländern des Theravada-Buddhismus. Frankfurt and Berlin: Metzner, 1966–1967.
This is a highly detailed institutional history of reform from an elite perspective. There is also a third volume that is useful as a bibliographic guide, published in 1973.
Berkwitz, Stephen C., Juliane Schober, and Claudia Brown. Buddhist Manuscript Cultures: Knowledge, Ritual, and Art. New York and Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2008.
A highly original set of articles on manuscript culture that offers a comparative study of various collections and manuscript cultures in South and Southeast Asia. Highly recommended for an introduction to the field.
Keyes, Charles F. The Golden Peninsula. New York: Macmillian, 1977.
Keyes’s influence on the study of Thai Buddhism and society cannot be underestimated. This is one of dozens of books and articles covering subjects as wide-ranging as local heroine/hero cults, gender and ordination, ethnicity, social ethics, modern Thai politics, and religious violence appearing between the mid-1970s and the present day. Keyes’s anthropological approach became a model for many subsequent scholars and drew many graduate students to work with him at the University of Washington.
Lagirarde, François, and Paritta Chalermpow Koanantakool, eds. Buddhist Legacies in Mainland Southeast Asia: Mentalities, Interpretations, and Practices. Bangkok: Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre, 2006.
Fourteen articles by the top scholars in Southeast Asian Buddhism, ranging from studies of murals and epigraphy to linguistics and history. Published in collaboration with École Française d’Extrême-Orient.
Pichard, Pierre, and François Lagirarde, eds. The Buddhist Monastery. Paris: École Française d’Extrême-Orient, 2003.
Although this collection draws on material from across Buddhist Asia, the editors have long-term experience working in Thailand, Laos, and Burma, and for comparative purposes, this is an excellent background set of chapters for those interested in Thai Buddhism.
Skilling, Peter. Buddhism and Buddhist Literature of South-East Asia: Selected Papers. Edited by Claudio Cicuzza. Materials for the Study of the Tripiṭaka 5. Bangkok: Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation, 2009.
This is a selection of twelve articles by the leading scholar of Theravada Buddhism. It reveals a breadth and depth rarely achieved by one person. Appendixes provided at the end of many articles list titles of stories, collections, inscriptions, languages, and the like. These, combined with the extensive notes and very useful bibliography, will make it a perennially useful reference work. Published in collaboration with the Lumbini Research Institute.
Swearer, Donald. The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia. 2d ed. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010.
This text presents a very general treatment of early Buddhist kingdoms, Buddhist festivals and rituals (popular traditions), and reform, focusing primarily on northern Thailand.
Taylor, Nora, and Boreth Ly, eds. Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012.
This collection of articles provides a good introduction to modern Buddhist art and includes work on Thailand. It is one of the few books in English on this topic.
Wells, Kenneth E. Thai Buddhism: Its Rites and Activities. New York: AMS Press, 1982.
Descriptive overview of the distinctive aspects of ritual practice in Thailand. Originally published in 1939.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest.
- Abhijñā/Ṛddhi (Extraordinary Knowledge and Powers)
- Abortion, Buddhism and
- Ajanta Caves
- Ambedkar Buddhism
- Ancient Indian Society
- Archaeology of Early Buddhism
- Art and Architecture In China, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in India, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Japan, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Nepal, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Tibet, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture on the "Silk Road," Buddhist
- Asceticism, Buddhism and
- Awakening of Faith
- Beats, Buddhism and the
- Bhāviveka / Bhāvaviveka
- Bodh Gaya
- Body, Buddhism and the
- Buddha, Three Bodies of the (Trikāya)
- Buddhism and Ethics
- Buddhism and Law
- Buddhism and Marxism
- Buddhism and Modern Literature
- Buddhist Art and Architecture in Sri Lanka and Southeast A...
- Buddhist Hermeneutics
- Buddhist Ordination
- Buddhist Theories of Causality (karma, pratītyasamutpāda, ...
- Buddhist Thought and Western Philosophy
- Buddhist Thought, Embryology in
- Buddhist-Christian Dialogue
- Cambodian Buddhism
- Canon, History of the Buddhist
- Caste, Buddhism and
- Central Asia, Buddhism in
- China, Esoteric Buddhism in, (Zhenyan and Mijiao)
- China, Pilgrimage in
- Chinese Buddhist Publishing and Print Culture, 1900-1950
- Colonialism and Postcolonialism
- Compassion (karuṇā)
- Cosmology, Astronomy and Astrology
- Culture, Material
- Dalai Lama
- Demons and the Demonic in Buddhism
- Dignāga and Dharmakīrti, The Philosophical Works and Influ...
- Dizang (Jizō, Ksitigarbha)
- Drigung Kagyu (’Bri gung bKa’ brgyud)
- Dzogchen (rDzogs chen)
- Early Buddhist Philosophy (Abhidharma/Abhidhamma)
- Early Modern European Encounters with Buddhism
- East Asian Buddhist Art, Portraiture in
- Ellora Caves
- Emptiness (Śūnyatā)
- Environment, Buddhism and the
- Ethics of Violence, Buddhist
- Family, Buddhism and the
- Feminist Approaches to the Study of Buddhism
- Four Noble Truths
- Funeral Practices
- Gandhāra, Buddhism in
- Gelugpa (dGe lugs pa)
- Gender, Buddhism and
- Hakuin Ekaku
- History of Buddhisms in China
- Image Consecrations
- India, Buddhism in
- India, Mahāmudrā in
- Internationalism, Buddhism and
- Intersections Between Buddhism and Hinduism in Thailand
- Iranian World, Buddhism in the
- Islam, Buddhism and
- Japan, Buddhism in
- Korea, Buddhism in
- Kyōgyōshinshō (Shinran)
- Laos, Buddhism in
- Linji and the Linjilu
- Literature, Chan
- Literature, Tantric
- Local Religion, Buddhism as
- Lotus Sūtra
- Mahayana, Early
- Mahāvairocana Sūtra/Tantra
- Malaysia, Buddhism in
- Mantras and Dhāraṇīs
- Merit Transfer
- Miracles, Buddhist
- Modernism, Buddhist
- Monasticism in East Asia
- Mongolia, Buddhism in
- Mongolia, Buddhist Art and Architecture in
- Mārga (Path)
- Music, and Buddhism
- Myanmar, Buddhism in
- New Medias, Buddhism in
- New Religions in Japan (Shinshūkyō), Buddhism and
- Śāntideva (Bodhicaryāvatāra)
- Nuns, Lives, and Rules
- Oral and Literate Traditions
- Pagan (Bagan)
- Perfection of Wisdom
- Perfections (Six and Ten)
- Philosophy, Chinese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Indian Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Japanese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Tibetan Buddhist
- Pilgrimage in India
- Pilgrimage in Japan
- Pilgrimage in Tibet
- Preaching/Teaching in Buddhism Studies
- Psychology and Psychotherapy, Buddhism in
- Pure Land Buddhism
- Pure Land Sūtras
- Religious Tourism, Buddhism and
- Saṃsāra and Rebirth
- Self, Non-Self, and Personal Identity
- Sexuality and Buddhsim
- Shinto, Buddhism and
- Soka Gakkai
- South and Southeast Asia, Devatās, Nats, And Phii In
- Southeast Asia, Buddhism in
- Sri Lanka, Monasticism in
- Sōtō Zen (Japan)
- Stūpa Pagoda Caitya
- Suffering (Dukkha)
- Sutta (Pāli/Theravada Canon)
- Texts, Dunhuang
- Thai Buddhism
- Thích Nhất Hạnh
- Three Turnings of the Wheel of Doctrine (Dharma-Cakra)
- Tibet, Buddhism in
- Tibet, Mahāmudrā in
- Tibetan Book of the Dead
- Tri Songdetsen
- Uighur Buddhism
- Verse Literature, Tibetan Buddhist
- Vidyādhara (weikza/weizzā)
- Vietnam, Buddhism in
- Vision and Visualization
- Visualization/Contemplation Sutras
- Visuddhimagga (Buddhaghosa)
- Warrior Monk Traditions
- West (North America and Europe), Buddhism in the
- Wheel of Life (Bhava-Cakra)
- Women in Buddhism
- Women in the West, Prominent Buddhist
- Zen, Premodern Japanese