Southeast Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - Internalizing Thainess: Education & Moral Development in a Northern Thai Monastery

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Madison A, Mezzanine Level

In northern Thailand, it is common for boys, ages 12 and above, to temporarily ordain as Buddhist novice monks for several years. They often do so to receive their secondary education for free, which they could not do otherwise due to a lack of resources or access to schools. Coming from poorer regions or ethnic minority villages to ordain, these young novices learn more than just Buddhism and the government-required subjects like math and science. They learn the language, customs, mores, and morals of both central Thailand and northern Thailand. In this process they come to see themselves not only as belonging to the ethnic minority they come from but also as Thai, particularly northern Thai. Based on two years of ethnographic fieldwork at government and monastic schools in and around Chiang Mai, Thailand, I draw on theories in psychological anthropology about how children and youth internalize cultural models to trace how young monastics take up ideas of what it means to be Thai through their everyday interactions with older monks, teachers, and the lay people who support them. By taking up ideas of how they as northern Thai monastics should act, these young monastics come to identify as northern Thais. I argue that a key way in which these youth come to identify as such is by internalizing a specifically northern Thai cultural model of morality that defines itself in opposition to what they see as central Thai models of morality.

Michael Chladek

University of Chicago, Illinois

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