The Ambiguous Allure of Ashoka: Buddhist Kingship AS Precedent, Potentiality, and Pitfall for Covenantal Pluralism in Thailand

Change log

In the course of the 20th century, Thai political elites fashioned a religiopolitical settlement that has a great deal in common with covenantal pluralism. They did so, furthermore, by rediscovering a historic precedent in the Indian emperor Asoka, and reinterpreting the image of this paragon of Buddhist kingship so as to emphasize theological humility and a benevolent embrace of religious pluralism. Since the fall of the absolute monarchy in 1932, this Asokan ideal has been reflected in the Buddhist Thai king’s constitutionally defined role as upholder of religions – in the plural. However, recent developments in Thailand highlight the difficulties associated with sustaining a tolerant and robustly pluralistic policy regime over time, and the inescapable normative trade-offs that this involves.

religious minorities, Buddhism, secularism, monarchy, memory politics, Thailand
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Review of Faith and International Affairs
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Informa UK Limited
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European Commission Horizon 2020 (H2020) Societal Challenges (770562)
The research on which parts of this essay is based benefitted from financial support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Program for Research and Innovation within the framework of the project CRISEA (“Competing Regional Integrations in Southeast Asia”), grant agreement No. 770562/Europe in a changing world, Engaging together globally.