Religion plays a central role in Thai society with Buddhism intertwined in the daily lives of the people. Religion also plays an important role in establishing gender boundaries. The growth in recent decades of self-governing nunneries and the increasing interest of Thai women in a Buddhist monastic life are notable changes in the religion/gender dynamic. This anthropological study considers religion and gender relations through the lens of the lives, actions, and roles in Thai society of Buddhist nuns (mae chii).
Making Fields of Merit presents a unique ethnography of Thai Buddhist nuns, examines what it implies to be a female ascetic in contemporary Thailand, and analyzes how the ordained state for women fits into the wider gender patterns found in Thai society. The study also deals with the nuns' agency in creating religious space and authority for women. It raises questions about how the position of Thai Buddhist nuns outside the Buddhist sangha affects their religious legitimacy and describes recent moves to restore a Theravada order of female monks.