Asian Review


Hidetake Yano

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This study analyzes the complicated relationship between consumer society and religious activities, focusing on the activities of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, a movement whose followers have increased since the 1970s, especially among the new urban middle classes in Thailand. With regard to the activities of the temple, there appear to be two different images. Outsiders criticize the temple for religious practice which promote consumerism and worldly desire, but followers of the temple claim their religious practice is a protection against contemporary stimuli of worldly desire. These views are not necessarily incongruous if the temple's activities are considered within the framework of a consumer society where consumption is not merely the acquisition of material commodities, but an act of social differentiation through the manipulation of signs. Information and images, including those of religious activities, are part of this consumption and differentiation. Discourses which oppose consumerism may then become a commodity which is consumed. Thus critics of Dhammakaya may be misreading the subjective intentions of the temple's members, but equally Dhammakaya practice may indeed be promoting consumerism of anti-consumerist discourse.



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