The Roots of Conservative Radicalism in Southern Thailand’s Buddhist Heartland

Dr Patrick Jory1, Mr Jirawat Saengthong1

1University Of Queensland, St Lucia, Australia

Studies of southern Thailand since the outbreak of militant violence in early 2004 have focused on the southern border provinces and the Malay-Muslim community. But in the more populous parts of the south with a Thai-Buddhist majority another process of radicalisation has taken place which has been largely ignored in the scholarship. In recent decades the south’s old Buddhist heartland has seen a high level of cultural and religious dynamism. A new field of southern Thai studies and a distinct southern Thai literature have emerged which have contributed to the hardening of a southern Thai Buddhist identity. This identity values struggle and resistance, an aggressive masculinity, self-reliance, loyalty to family and community, and a willingness to use violence in the defence of justice. This paper examines cultural and religious movements in southern Thailand’s Buddhist heartland in recent decades. It offers a new perspective on the recent rise of ultra-royalism, the strengthening of a politicised Buddhist identity, and the growth of anti-democratic sentiment in Thailand.


Patrick Jory teaches Southeast Asian History at the University of Queensland. He worked for nine years at Walailak University, southern Thailand, as Coordinator of the Regional Studies Program. He has recently completed a book on the history of manners and civility in Thailand.

Jirawat Saengthong teaches ASEAN Studies at Walailak Unviersity, southern Thailand. He is currently completing a PhD on the history of Thai film.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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