Apollonian and Dionysian Religious Forms in Thailand: Imaging as Social Agency

Joseph Rotheray





This article is concerned with statue-worship and its social meanings and functions in Thailand, interpreted from a historical and anthropological perspective as opposed to a Buddhist Studies one. The article identifies “imaging” as the strategic design, installation and dispensatory deployment of statues or images for social and political ends, and gives a brief historical account of this practice in the Southeast Asian context. The article also suggests the categories of “Apollonian” and “Dionysian” for the purpose of interpreting the aesthetics, meanings, values and social functions of Southeast Asian religiosity, as opposed to the usual denominational religious distinctions that this article argues have had an obscuring effect. A case study of a contemporary local spirit cult in northern Thailand is then given, in which these concepts and phenomena are exemplified and analyzed.


(Published in Rian Thai: International Journal of Thai Studies, Volume 12/2019 (Number 1), Page 23-50)