The 9th Session of “Area Studies Across the Boundaries: Southeast Asian Studies”: Divination and Politics in Thailand

On December 15th, 2020, the 9th session of “Area Studies Across the Boundaries: Southeast Asian Studies” Lecture Series was successfully held through video conferencing. Dr. Edoardo Siani, Assistant Professor at the University of Venice, conveyed a wonderful presentation entitled “Divination and Politics in Thailand” to the audience from inside and outside Institute of International and Area Studies, Tsinghua University (IIAS-THU).

Dr. Siani introduced the mysterious world of Thai divination to the audience by showing a large number of photos from his personal experience in Bangkok, Thailand. Statistics from Kasikornbank, a leading bank in Thailand, shows that in 2005, Thais spent about US$132 million a year on divination, which fully demonstrates the important role of divination in Thai lives. Later, Dr. Siani pointed out that there are some high-end and powerful clients in the divination business, including military and politicians. Here, he raised a key question: Why does divination influence in Thai politics?

Dr Siani’s research began in 2014. He adopted qualitative methodology and chose some diviners and divination clients in Bangkok as his subjects, in order to explore Bangkok’s divination business through unstructured interviews and observation. During fieldwork, Dr. Siani found that divination has played an essential role not only in modern Thailand, but also in today’s Thai politics, the continuity of which is thought-provoking. Politicians need to formulate policies that conform to public opinion and also expect to build up their political power by establishing positive karmic ties with gods. Modern divination embodies the continuity of Thailand’s Buddhist world view. This ancient and mysterious act is a core feature of Thais’ pursuit of power. From kings to civilians, diviners empower people with ritual and symbolic power and give politicians more political power and influence, by providing strategies and methods to increase good karma.

In the Q&A session, Dr. Siani enthusiastically discussed with the audience on the relationship between modern science and divination, the impact of divination on national politics and security, and the differences in divination between different regions in Thailand. The audience admitted they were profoundly inspired by this interesting topic.

Dr. Edoardo Siani holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies University of London and worked as Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies Kyoto University. Now he serves as Assistant Professor at the University of Venice. His research interest covers social anthropology, cultural anthropology, Thai studies and Southeast Asian studies.