Negotiating Thainess: Religious and National Identities in Thailand's Southern Conflict

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.

The purpose of this study is to investigate how people express religious and national identities in the conflict-ridden Patani region of southern Thailand. In a historical framework of disputes over territory and political legitimacy, where identities have developed in response to an emerging Thai nation, it is of relevance to understand the dynamics of these identities and to disclose how local people perceive themselves, their communities and society at large. While the key to ending the violence in the Patani region will likely be found in negotiations between insurgent groups and the Thai state, the prospects for a lasting peace will also depend on the degree to which such political solutions take the local population into consideration. A history of repressive policies aimed at undermining Malay Muslim culture and attempts to impose the ideology of Thainess upon the region have left the Thai state without legitimacy in the eyes of the Malay Muslim majority. As such, ethnicity and religion have become major sources of dissonance between the Thai state and the local population. Exploring local interethnic relations and attitudes towards Thainess and Thai nation-building is thus of great significance when it comes to comprehending the fundamental conflict lines in the region. Using anthropological fieldwork, this dissertation aims to detect how the concepts of religion and nation define and shape identity in the Patani region among Malay Muslims and Thai Buddhists. It seeks to identify what resonance there is for national and local discourses of religion and nation in the local population, how people are influenced by these discourses and how they redefine them. The findings show that both Malay Muslims and Thai Buddhists have developed multiple identities that tend to shift depending on situation and context. A primary objective of this study is thus to explore why these multiple identities have developed, how they are expressed in daily life and what impact they have on interethnic relations and interpretations of the southern Thai conflict.

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