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The Politics of Humor: A Historical Perspective of the Vessantara Jataka in Thailand

Colloquium with Katherine Bowie, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Wednesday, February 06, 2013
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
10383 Bunche Hall
UCLA Campus
Los Angeles, CA 90095

The Vessantara Jataka is the most famous of all the folktales about the previous lives of the Buddha.  This talk highlights significant variations in both interpretations and performances of the Vessantara Jataka across three regions of Thailand.  Although the Vessantara Jataka continues to play an important role in the annual cycle of temple festivals in northeastern Thailand, its importance in central and northern Thailand has been steadily declining. Taking a historical perspective, this essay will explore the changing politics of humor as an explanation for this regional variation.

Katherine Bowie is Professor of Anthropology and current Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  She has lived in Thailand eight years.  An expert in village life, her research combines oral histories, participant-observation and interviews with archival sources.  She completed her BA at Stanford University (1972) and her PhD at the University of Chicago (1988).  She has served as a Fulbright Scholar,  Eisenhower Fellow, book review editor for PoLAR (Political and Legal Anthropology Review), president of the Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs (MCAA), and president of the Council of Thai Studies (COTS).  Her publications include  Voices from the Thai Countryside:  The Necklace and Other Short Stories of Samruam Singh ( University of Wisconsin Press, 1998); Rituals of National Loyalty:  An Anthropology of the State and the Village Scout Movement in Thailand (Columbia University Press, 1997), and articles in Journal of Asian Studies, American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, and Comparative Studies in Society and History. She teaches courses on cultural anthropology, political anthropology, historical anthropology, Theravada Buddhism and mainland Southeast Asian societies.  Her research interests range from Thai peasant history and politics to gender and religion.

Cost : Free and open to the public.


Sponsor(s): Center for Buddhist Studies, Center for Southeast Asian Studies

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