Marte Nilsen

Senior Researcher

Marte Nilsen
Work phone: (+47) 22 54 77 80
Mobile phone: (+47) 988 79 323
Twitter: @MarteNilsen

Research Interests

Political conflicts and the relations between ethnicity, religion and nation-building in Myanmar, Thailand and Southeast Asia. Civil society movements in peace-building and democratization, and Buddhist-Muslim relations.


​​Marte Nilsen​​​​​ is a historian of religions and a Senior Researcher at PRIO, specialising on Southeast Asian affairs, particularly Thailand and Myanmar.


Dissemination (sample):

Myanmar: NRK Ytring, 17.10.2014 "Norges balansekunst i Myanmar"

Myanmar:Dagens Næringsliv, 08.10.2014 "Farlig Folketelling"

Thailand: NRK Ytring, 28.05.2014 "Thailands skjøre demokrati" 

Thailand: Norgesglasset NRK P1, 23.05.2014

Thailand: Dagsnytt 18 NRK2, 22.05.2014

Thailand: Nyhetsmorgen NRK P2,03.02.2014

Thailand: Forsvarets forum, Nr 3. 2014: "Politisk krise i Thailand"

Thailand: NRK Ytring, 17.01.2014: "Slaget om Bangkok" 

Myanmar: Urix NRK2, 14.11.2012

Thailand: Aktuelt NRK2, 19.05.2010

Thailand: Dagsnytt 18 NRK2, 18.05.2010

Thailand: Dagsnytt 18 NRK2, 19.05.2010

Thailand: Dagsavisen, 12.06.2010: Hva nå, Thailand?

Thailand: Dagbladet, 16.04.2009: Opprøret I Thailand

Thailand: VG, 14.09.2008: Elitenes kamp

Book Review: Journal of Peace Research Vol. 50, No. 2, March 2013 Sisk, Timothy D, ed. (2011) Between Terror and Tolerance: Religious Leaders, Conflict, and Peacemakinging, Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press

Book Review: Morgenbladet, 08.2007: Ikke helt levende – Bokanmeldelse av Verdens Levende Religioner, Gilhus and Mikaelsson (ed.), (2007) Oslo: Pax Forlag



2012: Burmese (intensive language course), University of London, SOAS.

2012: Dr.philos., History of Religions, Centre for Theology and Religious Studies (CTR), Lund University.

2006: Chinese (KIN 1110-1120), University of Oslo.

2005: Cand.philol., History of Religions, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages (IKOS), University of Oslo.

2002: Cand.mag., History of Religions, Sociology, History, University of Oslo.


Language skills:

Norwegian: Fluent

English: Fluent

German: Intermediate

Thai: Intermediate

Burmese: Basic

Chinese (M): Basic  


Work Experience:

2012- : Senior Researcher, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).

2007-2012: Doctoral Scholarship, CTR, Lund University.

2010: Lecturer, Terror in the Name of God, CTR, Lund University.

2006-2008: President, Attac Norway.

2006: Lecturer, Religion and Globalization, IKOS, University of Oslo.

2005-2006: University board member, University of Oslo.

2004-2007: Librarian’s assistant, Oslo University Library.


PRIO started tracking events online in 2007. This listing is not complete. Past events may be mentioned in our news archive.



All Publications

PhD Thesis

Nilsen , Marte (2012) Negotiating Thainess: Religious and National Identities in Thailand's Southern Conflict. PhD thesis, Lund Studies in History of Religions, Lund University, Sweden.

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Nilsen , Marte (2013) Will democracy bring peace to Myanmar?, International Area Studies Review 16(2): 115–141.
Nilsen , Marte (2011) The Spirit of a Heroine: Ya Mo - Spirit Reverence, Patriotism and Thai Buddhism , Modern Asian Studies 45(6): 1599–1625.

Book Chapter

Nilsen, Marte (2012) Military Temples and Saffron-Robed Soldiers: Legitimacy and the Securing of Buddhism in Southern Thailand, in Tikhonov, Vladimir; & Torkel Brekke, eds, Buddhism and Violence. Militarism and Buddhism In Modern Asia. London: Routledge (37–53).

PRIO Policy Brief

Nilsen , Marte & Stein Tønnesson (2016) A New Era for Myanmar – Trouble Ahead for Ethnic Minorities, PRIO Policy Brief, 5. Oslo: PRIO.
Nilsen , Marte & Stein Tønnesson (2016) A New Era for Myanmar – Trouble Ahead for Ethnic Minorities (Burmese Version), PRIO Policy Brief, 5. Oslo: PRIO.
Nilsen , Marte & Stein Tønnesson (2014) Myanmar’s National Census – Helping or ​Disrupting Peace?, PRIO Policy Brief, 1. Oslo: PRIO.
Nilsen , Marte & Stein Tønnesson (2014) High Risk of Electoral Violence in Myanmar, PRIO Policy Brief, 6. Oslo: PRIO.
Nilsen , Marte & Stein Tønnesson (2014) High Risk of Electoral Violence in Myanmar (BURMESE version), PRIO Policy Brief, 6. Oslo: PRIO.
Nilsen , Marte & Stein Tønnesson (2013) Political Parties and Peacebuilding in Myanmar, PRIO Policy Brief, 5. Oslo: PRIO.
Nilsen , Marte & Stein Tønnesson (2012) Can Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution Be Made To Satisfy Ethnic Aspirations?, PRIO Policy Brief, 11. Oslo: PRIO.

Blog Posts

No One can Fill King Bhumibol’s Shoes

Posted by Marte Nilsen on Monday, 17 October 2016

For 70 years, the beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) ruled Thailand, and to date he has represented the country’s only stable political reference point. Since the introduction of the constitutional kingdom in 1932, the country has been through 19 different constitutions and 12 military coups – the latest just two years ago. The King’s demise has long stood as a national trauma. Now the divided country is at a crossroads. The improbable monarch There was little indication that Bhumibol would become king. There was little indication that Bhumibol would become king. Bhumibol was born in the United States, in ...

Are We Nearing an End to Buddhist Extremism in Myanmar?

Posted by Marte Nilsen on Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Ma Ba Tha and similar groups of extremist monks in Myanmar could face resistance after a government official finally rebuked their brand of nationalism. It took just one dismissive comment from the chief minister of Yangon to seemingly deflate Ma Ba Tha. The Buddhist nationalist organisation has become known for its provocative segregation policies and derogatory depictions of Muslims, but now, almost for the first time, they were the ones under attack. It was a big moment, but the events that followed should be viewed in context of the massive political and religious reorientation taking place in Myanmar. Both political ...

Myanmar's Ethnic Minorities Marginalized More

Posted by Marte Nilsen & Stein Tønnesson on Wednesday, 13 April 2016

For the first time in over half a century, Myanmar has a government with a popular mandate, led by the National League for Democracy (NLD). Although the Myanmar armed forces still have extensive political powers under the 2008 constitution, and may seriously curtail the independent action of the new government, the inauguration of President Htin Kyaw represents a radical increase in the internal and international legitimacy of the Myanmar State. Paradoxically, this coincides with a setback for the country’s ethnic minorities and their struggle for autonomous status. Myanmar’s ethnic minority organisations now face a double marginalisation, militarily as well as ...

The Rise of Political Buddhism in Myanmar

Posted by Marte Nilsen on Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Narrow Burman-Buddhist nationalism remains the country’s biggest barrier to sustainable political reform. The Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion, known by the Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha, is gaining ground in Myanmar. It has also been receiving increased international attention—last month for its proposal to ban Muslim headscarves in public schools. The organization was founded in 2014, when central figures from the more widely known 969 movement started campaigning for four laws to ban polygamy, restrict interfaith marriages and religious conversions, and enforce birth control measures among groups with high rates of population growth. All four laws, which ...

Buddhist Nationalism Threatens Myanmar’s Democratic Transition

Posted by Marte Nilsen on Thursday, 12 March 2015

It’s election year in Myanmar, the big test for the country’s aspiring democratic transition. Among the spirited national debates there are four controversial pieces of legislation currently under consideration in Myanmar’s Assembly of the Union parliament (the Pyidaungsu hluttaw). These reportedly aim to protect race and religion. But in truth, the bills represent a setback for religious freedom and women’s rights and — if adopted — are likely to deepen existing religious divides, threaten the reform agenda and stir violence prior to the elections. A rising Buddhist nationalist movement has lobbied for the bills, in particular the ‘Organisation for the ...

Norway's Tightrope Walk in Myanmar

Posted by Marte Nilsen, Stein Tønnesson & Emil Jeremic on Thursday, 23 October 2014

Are the people of Myanmar able to distinguish between Norway’s role in promoting peace and the commercial interests of Norwegian businesses? Now that several state-owned Norwegian companies have entered into large and risky ventures in Myanmar, Norway is walking a tightrope between peace and commerce. The maintenance of support for the peace process is critical. Peace and commercial interests Norway has gained an international reputation as a peace builder, a role enabled by, among other factors, the Nobel Peace Prize and Norway’s status as a small country on the edge of Europe, without superpower pretensions. Norway’s oil wealth has made ...

A Dangerous Census

Posted by Marte Nilsen, Kristin Dalen & Kristin Jesnes on Friday, 17 October 2014

Norway has spent NOK 40 million to help fund a census in Myanmar (Burma). The census results are at odds with previous assumptions and may increase the level of conflict in the country in the run-up to the elections in 2015. Norway must take responsibility. Every country needs to know who is living within its borders. This is especially true of Myanmar, which is emerging from decades of military dictatorship and civil war. There is broad political consensus in Norway in favour of supporting reforms in Myanmar, and the census data will be important for decision-making in the future. At the ...

Thailand’s Fragile Democracy

Posted by Marte Nilsen on Friday, 30 May 2014

The traditional elite clings to an outdated world view. But a military coup offers no solution. ​Two days after the military coup in Thailand at least 13 bombs exploded, approximately simultaneously, in the city of Pattani. Three people, including a five-year-old child, were killed, and approximately 60 people injured. On Sunday there were clashes between anti-coup demonstrators and soldiers in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. A symptomatic feature of Thailand’s enduring power struggle is a failure to address the country’s underlying political conflicts. With last week’s military coup, the Thai army has once again put the country in a precarious position. ...

Myanmar's National Census - Helping or Disrupting Peace?

Posted by Marte Nilsen & Stein Tønnesson on Wednesday, 12 February 2014

In March/April 2014 Myanmar will carry out its first population and housing census in more than 30 years. If carried out properly it may provide reliable data to be used not just by the government, but also by civil society organizations and political parties, as a basis for negotiating the terms of the country’s future peace. In a PRIO Policy Brief we analyse the preparations for the census, discuss the risks and challenges, and provide recommendations for how to conduct the census in a conflict sensitive way. The Policy Brief aims to reach stakeholders in Myanmar, and has been translated ...

The Battle for Bangkok

Posted by Marte Nilsen on Monday, 20 January 2014

In the wake of the power struggle between the political elites in Thailand, we are now seeing a popular uprising. Once again Thailand’s capital is paralysed by demonstrations. The streets are filled with Thai flags and demands that the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, must step down. “Shut down Bangkok – Restart Thailand!” But behind the façade of colourful placards and catchy slogans lies a brutal political power struggle. The country’s political crisis seems to be worsening in proportion to the advancing age and deteriorating health of the people’s beloved King Bhumibol. The danger of violent confrontation is significant – just ...

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