I am currently writing a review of Nancy Eberhardt’s fascinating Imagining the Course of Life: Self-Transformation in a Shan Buddhist Community. Don’t be put off by the rather ponderous title. This is an engaging and entertaining account of ritual in a Shan community in Mae Hong Son province. A wide range of rituals (including the famous ordination rituals featured on the front cover) are considered, with the author skilfully drawing out various aspects of Shan world view about spirits, souls, selves and well being. The descriptions of the rituals are very well done indeed – not swamped with detail but with sufficient colour and texture to evoke their purpose and mood. The interpretation is nicely done. It does not dominate and is written in terms that, by and large, could be readily discussed with the ritual participants themselves. Most importantly Eberhardt’s accounts nicely incorporate the irreverent, the humorous and the plainly ridiculous. There is much here to entertain, and as the villagers would readily acknowledge, this is a key component of effective ritual performance. Capturing this dimension is one of the key contributions of the book. Highly recommended!

Imagining front Imagining back.JPG