In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cambodian Buddhism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • The Angkor Period
  • The Post-Angkor Period
  • Before and During French Colonialism, 1750–1954
  • Postcolonialism, 1954–1989
  • After Socialism, 1989–2013
  • The Ethnography of Cambodian Animism and Brahmanism
  • Buddhism in Village Studies
  • The Ethnography of Cambodian Buddhist Practices
  • François Bizot
  • Language and Literature of Khmer Buddhism
  • Art, Architecture, and Performance

Buddhism Cambodian Buddhism
John Marston
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0186


The study of Cambodian Buddhism has less clearly coalesced as a field than studies of Buddhism in the other major Theravada countries of Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand, although this is beginning to change. A lack of coherence may have to do with the ruptures in Cambodian Buddhism itself: the odd combinations of Buddhism (often Mahayana) in the Angkorean period and the subsequent arrival of Theravada institutions; the effect of French colonialism on the practice of Buddhism, followed by the social experiments of postcolonial Cambodia, including the radical Pol Pot period during which, for three years, Buddhism was effectively outlawed. Related to this is the apparent rupture in scholarship from the French traditions with roots in colonialism to the sometimes rather different focus and style of non-French scholars who began to study Cambodian Buddhism as well, gaining momentum as the country opened up politically in the 1990s. Despite important work on Khmer texts by several scholars, we perhaps still lack a clear overview of the Buddhist textual tradition in Cambodia. There have also been relatively few attempts at overviews of the country’s Buddhism. Nevertheless, as this bibliography shows, important work has been completed, and this has gained momentum in recent years.

General Overviews

The two major attempts at an overview of Cambodian Buddhism, Leclère 1975 (originally 1899) and Harris 2005, are separated by a century and very different in approach. Leclère was French resident to several provinces of Cambodia starting in 1886 and over the course of his career wrote about a variety of aspects of Cambodian society; here he writes about doctrine and ritual practice, with virtually no citations of sources. Harris, a trained Buddhologist and well-versed in the French literature on Cambodia, does not neglect doctrine or ritual practice but, in the end, draws principally on published sources, meticulously cited, to construct an overview of Cambodian Buddhism heavily focused on the historical record. Harris’s book appeared at a time of renewed interest in Cambodian Buddhism, and coincided with other publications which also attempted to take a broad perspective: two edited volumes (Marston and Guthrie 2004 and Kent and Chandler 2008) and an issue of the journal Siksācakr devoted to Cambodian Buddhism (Edwards 2006–2007).

  • Edwards, Penny, ed. Special Issue: Buddhism. Siksācakr 8–9 (2006–2007).

    A solid work of scholarship, which, like other overviews published in the 2000s, helped redefine Cambodian Buddhist studies. Gives particular emphasis to the colonial period, but also includes work on women in Cambodian Buddhism and the relation of Buddhism to political conflict.

  • Harris, Ian. Cambodian Buddhism: History and Practice. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2005.

    The most complete overview of Cambodian Buddhism we have to date. An impressive synthesis of the body of literature on Cambodian Buddhism, drawing well on the French tradition. It works well as a narrative history, with many telling, interesting details. The book also includes chapters summarizing the ethnography of Cambodian Buddhist practice. Very helpful, complete bibliography.

  • Kent, Alexandra, and David Chandler. “Introduction.” In People of Power: Reconfiguring Religion, Power and Moral Order in Cambodia Today. Edited by Alexandra Kent and David Chandler, 1–15. Copenhagen: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 2008.

    Introduces a volume which, like others published at the time, attempts to see the larger picture of Cambodian Buddhism. In addition to summarizing contents, this introduction provides a brief historical account. It emphasizes that Cambodia is “attempting to recover moral order after violent conflict both in relation to indigenous values and experience and as embedded in social relations and history” (p. 2).

  • Leclère, Adhemard. Le buddhisme au Cambodge. New York: AMS Press, 1975.

    Originally published in 1899, this was for a century the key overview of Cambodian Buddhism. The book is broad in its scope and includes chapters dedicated to general Buddhist beliefs and doctrines (cosmogony, the inhabitants of the universe, ontology, the Buddha and his disciples, the basis of the doctrine, the doctrine) and chapters more about the specific practices of Cambodia (ritual, the sangha, art and architecture, ethics). In French.

  • Marston, John, and Elizabeth Guthrie. “Introduction.” In History, Buddhism, and New Religious Movements in Cambodia. Edited by John Marston and Elizabeth Guthrie, 1–5. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2004.

    A brief survey of the literature on Cambodian Buddhism and introduction to the works in this volume. Introductions to the book’s four sections, “Cambodian Religion and the Historical Construction of Nation,” “The Icon of the Leper King,” “The Ethnography of Contemporary Cambodian Buddhism,” and “The Transnationalism of Cambodian Religion,” further frame the discussion and clarify the different traditions which study Buddhism in Cambodia proper and the diaspora community.

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