I have recently finished reading Volume 3 of a wonderful Thai studies trilogy.
Volume 1 Nation, was published in 1994. It is a forensic account of the construction of one of the core symbols of modern Thailand’s nationhood.
It was a long wait until Volume 2, King, emerged in 2006. But the wait was worth it. The author risked all to examine the personalities, the politics and the public relations behind the revered face of the one who never smiles.
Volume 3, Religion, hit the bookshops late last year. In this third volume of the trilogy, the author veers away from an explicit engagement with the politics of nationhood or monarchy. This is a more subtly subversive volume but, as it winds it’s way through monastaries, libraries and ancient manuscripts, a little-known subaltern world of religious practice emerges. Just as Volume 1 unravelled the nation and Volume 2 unravelled the monarchy, Volume 3 unravels the notion of a unified national religion shaped by reformist kings.
I can think of no better introduction to some of the central themes in Thai national life than this extraordinary trilogy. Is a boxed set too much to ask for?