Monks and Magic

Revisiting a Classic Study of Religious Ceremonies in Thailand

Barend Jan Terwiel

  • Published: 2012
  • Pages: 336 pp.
  • Series: NIAS Classics
  • Series number: 2
Available from NIAS Press worldwide
ISBN Hardback: 978 87 7694 065 2, £30.00
ISBN Paperback: 978 87 7694 101 7, £19.99
  • An important contribution to Buddhist studies.
  • Addresses the controversy among scholars about the nature of Theravada Buddhism.

First published in 1975, B.J. Terwiel’s Monks and Magic remains a widely cited text. This is an absorbing study of Buddhism as practised at that time in a community in rural Central Thailand, describing how esoteric spells and magical diagrams were the main interest of children and adolescents but full ritual knowledge was obtained in adulthood and tempered by life experiences. As death approaches, the Buddhist world view stimulates merit-making.

This reproduction of the 1979 second revised edition is augmented by new material on magic and Buddhism in Southeast Asia by Professor Terwiel, a renowned specialist on the social and cultural history of Thailand.

by Joanna Cook, University College London
From journal:
Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, Vol. 28, No. 3, November 2013

"The author’s own engagement with the monastic and lay communities gives the work a notable depth in the ethnography of ritual and meaning.

"The author’s own engagement with the monastic and lay communities gives the work a notable depth in the ethnography of ritual and meaning. This remains an important but controversial book: important for the beautiful, detailed ethnographic account of ritual and belief in a village community that it provides, and controversial for the unbridgeable separation…between "village" and "elite" Buddhism.

…it remains an impressively detailed ethnographic contribution to the study of Thai Buddhism."

by Benjamin J. R. Baumann
From journal:
Aséanie 28, 2012

"…not only a superb ethnographic account of rural Thai Buddhist practices and beliefs, which the author describes in great detail, but also a major contribution to the theoretical discourse on the study of Thai religion.

"…not only a superb ethnographic account of rural Thai Buddhist practices and beliefs, which the author describes in great detail, but also a major contribution to the theoretical discourse on the study of Thai religion.

…the reading of Monks and Magic became a constant source of inspiration and an unexpected help during my own data collection process.

…One of this new edition’s major improvements [is] the inclusion of Thai script throughout the entire book, (…) a revised glossary, (…) an elaborate index, (…) as well as several new photographs.  

…Terwiel’s study represents one of the best ethnographies of Thai village life ever written."

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