ABSTRACT: Refuge and Emplacement through Buddhism: Karen Refugees and Religious Practices in a Northwestern Border Town of Thailand
“Refuge and Emplacement through Buddhism:
Karen Refugees and Religious Practices
in a Northwestern Border Town of Thailand”
in Sin Wen Lau, Nanlai Cao (eds.). 2014. Religion and Mobility in a Globalising Asia: New Ethnographic Explorations. London: Routledge.
Recent discussions in refugee studies question the stereotypical representation of refugees as absolute victims and reveal the dual aspects of refugees: displacement and emplacement. Yet the academic field pays little attention to how refugees reconstitute a sense of belonging in situations of forced mobility through religious and ritual practices. In studying a group of Buddhist Karen refugees in Mae Sot valley on the Thailand-Myanmar border area, I explore how the Karen refugees negotiate a monastery founding project during their exile and how religious belief and practices facilitate the Karen orientation to place. The paper argues that the web of connections constituting the Mae Sot borderlands have created a culturally accommodating space that enables the Karen to maintain continuity in religious practice, and that Buddhist practices in a familiar tradition help them to reproduce locality and engender a sense of place and belonging in a new social environment.