Buddhist-Christian Encounter in Contemporary Thailand

by Kenneth Fleming (Author)
©2014 Monographs XV, 228 Pages


This book is a study of contemporary Buddhist-Christian encounter in Thailand. Case studies, which include a Buddhist nationalist group, a charismatic church movement, and a village community, describe the variety and nature of Buddhist-Christian relations. Arising issues – nationalism, identity, notions of the religious other – are discussed with regard to Thai history and modern society. The book also highlights cultural notions of avoidance and the Buddhist concept of friendship as Thai offerings to the field of interreligious dialogue. The study is based on qualitative research and draws on different academic disciplines, including religious studies, theology, and political studies. It makes a distinctive contribution to the fields of Thai Studies and global Buddhist-Christian Studies.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Notes on transliteration and translation
  • Glossary
  • Abbreviations
  • Part I: The Thai Context
  • Chapter 1: Considering Interreligious Encounter: An Introduction
  • Disturbing the peace
  • Contour
  • Approach
  • The why question
  • Chapter 2: Buddhist-Christian Encounter in the Past
  • Interpreting Thai history
  • Interpreting past encounters
  • Modern developments
  • Lessons learned
  • Chapter 3: Religion and Society
  • Organised religion
  • Religion and conflict in the south
  • Buddhism today
  • Christianity today
  • Part II: A Thai Story
  • Chapter 4: Buddhist-Christian Encounter: Contemporary Case Studies
  • Cases of encounter
  • The Buddhism Protection Centre of Thailand
  • Foundation and concerns
  • The dangers to Buddhism
  • The Christian threat
  • The untrustworthy Christian
  • Hope of Bangkok Church
  • Birth, growth and division
  • Evangelism, a way of life
  • The unsaved Buddhist
  • Spirit in Education Movement
  • Foundation and work
  • The Sulak element
  • Encounter and grassroots concerns
  • The partnership model
  • The Institute of Religion, Culture and Peace
  • Background – the Protestant liberal legacy and an uncertain future
  • Resisting dialogue: the church response
  • The Buddhist as dialogue partner
  • A Village Community
  • Place and people
  • Village encounter
  • The religious other as kinsfolk
  • Chapter 5: A Critical Dialogue
  • Buddhists and nationalism
  • Khwammankhong Buddhism: the issue
  • Nation, Religion and Monarchy: the ideology
  • Points of debate
  • The search for a Thai Christian identity
  • The task of inculturation: the issue
  • A foreign body? Perceptions and responses
  • Points of debate
  • Understanding the religious other
  • Defining difference: the issue
  • Sombun religion – conceptions and critique
  • Points of debate
  • Chapter 6: Conclusion: A Thai Offering
  • Past meets present
  • A Thai offering
  • Bibliography

← viii | ix → Acknowledgements

This monograph is the result of a research project at Heidelberg University, which has depended on the help and support of many people. Thanks to the German Research Foundation for their generous financial backing (project reference GZ: BE 2218/6-1, AOBJ: 572949), and to Prof Michael Bergunder of the Department of Religious Studies and Intercultural Theology for his oversight and comments. Thanks are also due to a number of academics engaged in Thai studies, including Suwanna Satha-Anand, Donald Swearer, Martin Seeger, and Parichart Suwanbubbha, who commented on the research in its early stages. For their welcome and cooperation, heartfelt thanks to all those in the case studies who agreed to be interviewed and shared their thoughts freely. The research was enriched and driven by a great number of other discussions and interviews in Thailand – my gratitude to church leaders, Buddhist monks, academics, and villagers for their time and input. Many of these encounters did not make it into the pages of this book, but they have influenced what has been written. Special recognition goes to Baw Tananone in Bangkok, who accompanied the research from day one, offering constructive criticism and helping out with translation matters. Also, my appreciation to the Bang Wun villagers, Buddhists and Christians alike, for their kindness, hospitality and, on more than one occasion, rescuing me from poisonous snakes!

The research would not have been possible without an understanding family. A mention here for my children, Aidan and Tamsin, for their backing, especially when I was abroad, missing birthdays and other celebrations.

This book is dedicated to two special people. To my wife, Ute Jäger-Fleming, for her constant encouragement during the research and personal support. To the memory of Phoyai Sii, founder of a small Thai village church. I met him over twenty years ago, but it was only during research for this book, after his death in 2011, that I came to appreciate his significance for interreligious relations. ← ix | x →

← x | xi → Notes on transliteration and translation

In many instances, the Thai original text and its romanisation are provided in addition to the translation. There is no settled method of romanisation in the Thai language and writers will often adopt and adapt what they find best. This can be confusing to readers when the same word is presented in a markedly different fashion across texts, but it is unavoidable. Like others, this book uses a mixed approach. For the most part, the Royal Thai General System of Transcription is used for transliteration, though the drawback is that tones and the length of the vowels are not distinguished. In some places, the more common romanised form of the word in Pali is preferred to the Thai – e.g. dhamma (Pali) rather than phratham (Thai). In others – e.g. Thammakai instead of Dhammakaya – I have preferred a transliteration of the Thai over Pali. Some organisations have carried out their own transliteration and translation of terms, which are usually adopted here. A glossary and explanatory notes in the text have been added to avoid confusion. Except for proper names, Thai transliterated terms are italicised.

Unless otherwise stated, I am responsible for all translations of interview recordings and Thai works into English and am alone liable for any errors in understanding and translation.← xi | xii →

← xii | xiii → Glossary

In some cases, a Pali term is used in the book instead of its Thai equivalent, e.g. dhamma instead of phratam. These Pali words are more common in English than their Thai equivalents and are often used by Thais when they translate into English. The left list is the Thai or Pali transliterated term, the middle is the word in Thai, and the right provides a brief explanation of the term.



Buddhist monk.



Buddhist nun.

dhamma (Pali)


(Thai pratham)

Buddhist teachings, doctrine, truth. It is a term with various meanings.



also kalyanamitta: being a friend, friendship, having good friends, association with vitreous people.



volitional action; good and bad volition.



firmness, stability, permanence, security.



title given to a woman who follows the eight precepts, dons white robes, and shaves her head, but is not ordained. The male Sangha recognises maechi but not female ordination.



‘Great Order/Sect/Fraternity; the largest of Thailand’s two main Buddhist orders (see Thammayut)

← xiii | xiv → phra


title used to denote a Buddhist monk; a Buddhist monk; monk; priest in other religions (also used as honnorific title for royalty and in relation to sacred matters).



Buddhist order of monks and male novices. In Thai, the word often used is khanasong, but the Pali sangha is preferred in translations.

Santi Asoke


New Buddhist movement founded in the 1970s, whose charismatic founder, Phra Bodhirak, was expelled from the Sangha (highly critical of monastic abuses of wealth; supportive of nationalist political policies).



religion (general term); teaching, message or dispensation of the Buddha.



to be whole, complete, perfect; abundant, plentiful, fertile, healthy.



‘Body of the Buddha’; large and influential Buddhist movement that came to prominence in the 1980s (often accused by its critics of commercialising Buddhism).



‘Dhamma-Abiding Order/Sect/Fraternity’; smaller of Thailand’s two main Buddhist orders (see Mahanikai). Founded as reform order by Prince Mongkut in 1833, and continues to benefit from royal sponsorship.



Buddhist monastery/temple


XV, 228
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (May)
Thai studies Enkulturation religiöse Identität national Identity
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. XVI, 228 pp.

Biographical notes

Kenneth Fleming (Author)

Kenneth Fleming is a Scottish theologian, who has lived and worked in Asia. He has been involved in Buddhist-Christian dialogue at the grassroots and in academia for many years and has wide experience of Japanese and Thai forms of Buddhism and Christianity.


Title: Buddhist-Christian Encounter in Contemporary Thailand
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