Abstracts from Fall 2010 Lecture Series

Sept. 10, Donald Stadtner, The Sacred Sites of Burma
Some sacred sites come and go in Burma quickly, almost like shooting stars. Others endure and shine for centuries, if not millennia. The four most sacred sites in Burma could scarcely be more different from one another. One is a traditional stupa containing hair relics, the world-famous Shwedagon Pagoda; while the second is simply an enormous granite boulder balanced precariously on a cliff side on the outskirts of nowhere. The third is an enormous bronze Buddha cast at the time of the Buddha’s visit to western Burma and later captured as imperial booty and worshipped in Upper Burma. The Fourth, less well known, is the Buddha’s footprint at Shwesetaw. How do sacred sites come into existence and what makes for a successful stupa or Buddha image? The answers to these questions go right to the heart of religious belief and devotion.

Sept. 17, Michael Laffan, The Makings of Indonesian Islam
It is often claimed that Indonesian Islam can lay claim to a special tradition of tolerance and syncretism unparalleled in the Muslim World. Furthermore, that this is the legacy of Sufi missionaries who reached its many shores in the 13th century. This talk, based on Laffan’s forthcoming book of the same title, will suggest that such a narrative is the result of a specific period of interaction in Indonesian colonial history during which time the rising popularity of Sufi orders led to an intense reaction both within the Muslim community and among Dutch scholars called upon to explain Islam to a worried metropolitan state. Laffan will argue that in their discussions and activities, Muslim reformers and orientalist scholars were often of one mind regarding the place of the Sufi orders—that it was in history, rather than the present, that their place remains unchallenged.

Sept. 24, Suchitra Punyaratabhandhu, Participatory Governance in Thailand: A Regional Survey
This presentation questions whether clientelist political systems such as Thailand’s contradict the good governance paradigm which assumes the existence of a democratic, egalitarian, pluralistic, and participatory society. To answer the question, survey findings are presented on citizen behaviors and attitudes toward participation, one of the many dimensions of governance. The findings are based on a probability sample of 3,033 respondents drawn from 19 provinces in the north, northeast, central, and south regions of Thailand (excluding Bangkok, the capital city). Dr. Punyaratabhandhu provides a fascinating perspective on support—and non-support—of citizen participation in Thai politics.  Her findings help explain why Thailand continues to experience political crises.

Oct. 1, Chandra-nuj Mahakanjana and Tatchalerm Sudhipongpracha, Achieving Democratic Accountability in Thai Local Government
This presentation provides an update on a collaborative research project between the National Institute of Development in Bangkok, Thailand and Northern Illinois University. The project investigates the professionalization of municipal clerks in post-decentralization Thailand. Mahakanjana and Sudhipongpracha provide the results of a national survey of Thai municipal clerks, as well as several in-depth interviews.

Oct. 8, Grant Olson, Thai Buddhism and Food: Creating a 'Good Life'
If we attempt to follow the topic of food through various aspects of Buddhism, we find that it leads to some key turning points or elements in the religion.  Food is related to the fundamental establishment of the Middle Way, the beginning as well as the end of Lord Buddha's "career"; food suggests a key role for laity (especially women); and tales that include food continue to demonstrate how Buddhism is a recipe composed of various syncretic elements.

Oct. 15, John MacDougall, Bali in transition: From the cultural exclusivism of the New Order to inclusion in today’s Indonesian leaders
Since the fall of Suharto in 1998, Indonesia’s hopes and fears have been remarkably religious. Despite the power of piety in post-Suharto Indonesia, many aspects of the past continue to be swept under the carpet. When Suharto stepped down in 1998, the killings of 1965 were finally allowed to become more than a secretive whisper. The victims of that period were—in many places—finally buried, cremated, discussed, and respected. After nearly 30 years of silence, Balinese nationalists became passive activists for reform as early as 1994. Reacting to the influx of non-Balinese migrants, Bali’s government passed regulations that would monitor the movements and residencies of new migrants. Despite often excessive efforts, terrorist members of Jemaah Islamiyah were able to bomb two restaurants in the tourist haven of Kuta in October of 2002. Indonesian and foreign authorities had to do their homework on radical Islam in Indonesia and rewrite investigative reports of what were otherwise termed local conflicts from 1998 to 2002. Whether through muted ancestors, new citizenship permits, or homespun Al Qaeda associates, we were not tending to the needs of 65 ancestors any more. Sadly, it appears that in our frightful obsession with the future , we may have neglected the ideological contours of the country’s past.

Oct. 29, Ratanaporn Sethakul, The Kengtung Wars: King Mongkut's Military Misadventures in the Shan State of Northern Burma?
The Kengtung wars arose from internal problems in Sipsong Panna. Kengtung became the battlefield because King Mongkut's predecessor held the view that by intervening in SSPN's affairs, Siam could expand its power in the Northwest. Dr. Ratanaporn will argue that Siam needed to seize control of Kengtung in order to keep the Burmese out of the Mekong River Basin and then use the Salween River as a natural border between Siam and Burma.

Nov. 5, Niti Pawakapan, A Border Town Transformed
This talk focuses on a small market town in the Thailand-Burma borderlands. It was established on one of the northern Thailand-Shan States trade routes in the early nineteenth century. Cross-border movements have been common since then. All kinds of goods, new technologies, innovations, and new ideas, have been introduced to the town. Such changes are the results of complex relations between the borderlands, national, and global developments.