Deathpower: Buddhism's Ritual Imagination in Cambodia

Hardcover | December 8, 2015

byErik W. Davis

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Drawing on extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Cambodia, Erik W. Davis radically reorients approaches toward the nature of Southeast Asian Buddhism's interactions with local religious practice and, by extension, reorients our understanding of Buddhism itself. Through a vivid study of contemporary Cambodian Buddhist funeral rites, he reveals the powerfully integrative role monks play as they care for the dead and negotiate the interplay of non-Buddhist spirits and formal Buddhist customs.

Buddhist monks perform funeral rituals rooted in the embodied practices of Khmer rice farmers and the social hierarchies of Khmer culture. The monks' realization of death underwrites key components of the Cambodian social imagination: the distinction between wild death and celibate life, the forest and the field, and moral and immoral forms of power. By connecting the performative aspects of Buddhist death rituals to Cambodian history and everyday life, Davis undermines the theory that Buddhism and rural belief systems necessarily oppose each other. Instead, he shows Cambodian Buddhism to be a robust tradition with ethical and popular components extending throughout Khmer society.

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Drawing on extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Cambodia, Erik W. Davis radically reorients approaches toward the nature of Southeast Asian Buddhism's interactions with local religious practice and, by extension, reorients our understanding of Buddhism itself. Through a vivid study of contemporary Cambodian Buddhist funeral rites, he r...

Erik W. Davis is associate professor of religious studies at Macalester College. His research interests include contemporary religious movements, spirit possession, and the ritualization of ethnic boundaries.

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:320 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.98 inPublished:December 8, 2015Publisher:Columbia University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0231169183

ISBN - 13:9780231169189

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Table of Contents

AcknowledgmentsNote on TransliterationIntroduction1. Getting Sited in Cambodia2. The Funeral3. Rice, Water, Hierarchy: The Wild and the Civil4. Building Deathpower and Rituals of Sovereignty5. Binding Mighty Death: The Craft and Authority of the Rag Robe in Cambodian Ritual Technology6. Gifts and Hungry Ghosts7. Eating Leftovers, Rumors, and Witchcraft8. Buddhism Makes BrahmanismNotesKhmer GlossaryWorks CitedIndex

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A beautifully realized ethnography of Buddhist rituals in Cambodia, full of details and well-crafted narratives that bear witness to the empathic depth of his fieldwork. Given its fruitful marriage of precise ethnography and daring theory, Deathpower is one of the first English-language books on Cambodia that will reshape the study of Buddhism beyond Southeast Asia.