Wat Arun and the Material Culture of Thai Buddhism


The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowships in Buddhist Studies


This dissertation explores the material culture of a prominent Thai Buddhist temple, Wat Arun. The material objects, and related networks, that are investigated include: (1) the mosaic work of Chinese ceramics, arranged possibly in a Persian design, on the iconic Khmer-style tower, (2) an amulet endowed with importance through association with a German Kaiser and popularized by a Hong Kong actress, and (3) a wooden sword connected to an eighteenth-century king used in a contemporary exorcism ritual. A material cultural analysis of such objects not only highlights the plurality of Wat Arun’s social and religious history but also invites critical reflection on received notions of what constitutes Thai and Theravāda Buddhism.