Confronting Christianity: The Protestant Mission and the Buddhist Reform Movement in Nineteenth-Century Thailand

Hardback: $70.00
ISBN-13: 9780824895747
Published: July 2024
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Additional Information

260 pages | 8 b&w illustrations
  • About the Book
  • Confronting Christianity explores the history of religious encounters between Christian missionaries and Thai Buddhists during the nineteenth century, a period of Western imperialism in Southeast Asia that fundamentally transformed Siamese society and religious institutions. From about 1830 onwards, discussions on religion became a central arena of conflict between rival regimes of knowledge in Thailand, confronting traditional Buddhist views on nature and man’s existence with the ideals and practices of science and rationalism coming from the West. Protestant missionaries, mostly from the United States, became important brokers of knowledge, as one of their strengths was the ability to offer religion in tandem with modern science and technology. Historian Sven Trakulhun explains why the intrusion of evangelical Christianity strengthened the position of Theravāda Buddhism rather than undermining people’s belief in traditional forms of worship.

    Based on a wide range of Thai and Western primary sources, the volume describes how Christian missionaries unwittingly contributed to the making of what scholars of Buddhism have later rendered as “Buddhist modernism.” In response to Christian assaults on the traditional cosmology, Buddhist reformers fashioned an orthodox version of Buddhism that acknowledged the findings of modern science and at the same time deemed even more rational than Christianity. This new orthodoxy became a major source of moral authority for Thai kings and an important ideology for pushing their claims for religious leadership in the Theravāda Buddhist world. Trakulhun offers a thorough study of the encounter between Christianity and Buddhism and places the history of Siamese Theravāda Buddhism within the broad context of global intellectual history.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Sven Trakulhun, Author

      Sven Trakulhun teaches history in the Department for Languages and Cultures of Southeast Asia, Universität Hamburg, and is an adjunct professor for history at Universität Potsdam.