Gifts and Ghosts: A Derridean Reading of Theravada Communities

Sokthan Yeng


Because Europeans have shaped scholarly discourse about Southeast Asia and Buddhism, movement away from understanding “pure” Theravada Buddhism through religious and philosophical doctrine was a technique to decenter Western readings and shows how practitioners shaped their own beliefs. Stanley Tambiah called for academics to pay more attention to common beliefs of laypeople and everyday practices of monks. This, in turn, placed anthropologists at the center of collecting knowledge about Theravada Buddhism. Yet French philosophers continued, through their theories, to influence the structure of anthropological analysis of Theravada cultures, particular through gift exchanges. In this paper, I will explore ways Derrida’s theories of gifts and ghosts can add to anthropological studies of Southeast Asian communities while also helping to recover philosophical and ethical components of Theravada practices.


Derrida; gift; hauntology; Theravada Buddhism

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