Anthropological studies of spirit possession in Theravada Buddhist worlds
continue to be strongly shaped by many of the theoretical presumptions embedded in
the analytic models proposed by the earliest generation of scholars. The ability of subsequent
theoretical developments in the discipline to influence analyses of spirit possession,
Theravada Buddhism, and the relationship between them has been hindered
in recent decades by the limited institutionalization of the anthropology of Buddhism
as a shared, comparative research agenda. This article re-examines anthropological
models of spirit possession in Theravada Buddhist South and Southeast Asia in light
of three theoretical developments in anthropology in the final decades of the twentieth
century—the critique of culture, the rise of practice theory, and the historical turn.
Incorporating these developments more fully will, it is argued, advance a more analytically
robust and empirically nuanced framing of both Buddhism and spirit possession as
objects of future anthropological study.
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