Beyond Hybridity and Syncretism: Kala-Thesa Contextual Sensitivity and Power in Thai Religious and Gender Cultures

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Peter A. Jackson


The polycultural multiplicity of Thailand is one of the defining issues for studies of the country’s religious culture, and scholars have struggled to appreciate Thai religion as a complex of multiple, partly discrete yet also intersecting and hierarchically organised ritual-belief systems. A key question is whether the amalgamated complexity of the Thai religious field is a single integrated system or a conjoined constellation of several distinct religions. I argue that in exploring this question notions of syncretism and theories of hybridity do not capture the full complexity of Thai religious and other cultural forms. Accounts of cultural hybridity are based on a binary notion that emphasises fusion and the formation of new internally coherent wholes. In contrast, Thailand is a polyvalent society in which more than two cultural and religious forms are often present in contiguous but non-intersecting ways. I contend that the Thai notion of kala-thesa (“time and place”)
contextual sensitivity offers a useful additional concept to understand patterns of cultural amalgamation in the fields of religion, gender and language as well as more broadly. I summarise Nidhi Eoseewong’s account of Thai kala-thesa “spatialities” as an important theoretical contribution to understanding how religious complexity, as well as ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity, are managed in Thailand. I describe kala-thesa contextualisation as a modality of power over a succession of foreign cultural influences throughout Thai history. I conclude that an expanded conceptual vocabulary and theoretical repertoire of cultural and religious mixing is needed to enable us to fully appreciate the character of religious, gender and other forms of cultural diversity that have emerged in modern Thailand from the society’s deep historical experience of pluralism and multiplicity.


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Jackson, P. (2020). Beyond Hybridity and Syncretism: : Kala-Thesa Contextual Sensitivity and Power in Thai Religious and Gender Cultures. Journal of Anthropology, Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre (JASAC), 3(1), 1-37. Retrieved from
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