Holy Men of Another Kind

A Comparative Study of Millennialism in Northern Thailand and the Lower Mekong Region


  • Paul T. Cohen Macquarie University, Sydney


Of studies of Buddhist millennialism in mainland Southeast Asia, those concerned with the millennial “holy men” rebellions of northeastern Thailand and southern Laos have attracted most attention. The literature on millennialism in northern Thailand is meagre by comparison and has been largely restricted to the work of three prominent anthropologists—Charles Keyes, Stanley Tambiah and Katherine Bowie—and focused on the famous ton bun (holy man) of this region, Khruba Siwichai. My argument in this article is that a common Buddhist cosmological imaginary and similar holy man terminology have encouraged these scholars to conflate the millennial movements of the two regions in a way that obscures fundamental differences in millennial thinking and the absence in the north of millennial rebellions that were common in the lower Mekong region.


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