Year published :September 2010

Pages :292 (xx + 272) pp.

Size :15x23 cm.

ISBN: 9789749511947

Ascendancy of Theravāda Buddhism in Southeast Asia, The

by Prapod Assavavirulhakarn

This wide-ranging account of early Buddhism in Southeast Asia overthrows dominant theories among both Western and Asian scholars. Prapod Assavavirulhakarn argues that Pāli-based Buddhism was brought from India and Sri Lanka by merchants, monks, and pilgrims by the fourth century. Several schools flourished alongside Brahmanism, Mahāyānism, and local spirit beliefs—in coexistence rather than conflict. There was no ‘conversion’ to Theravāda in the eleventh century as the school was already well established. Prapod draws on a broad range of source material including inscriptions, texts, archaeology, iconography, architecture, and anthropology from India, Sri Lanka, China, and the region itself. He highlights the lived tradition of religious practice rather than scriptural sources.

What others are saying

“Prapod Assavavirulhakarn strips away methodologies and assumptions imported from the study of Western religions in order to provide a distinctively Southeast Asian account of how Buddhism became ascendant.”
—Chris Baker, co-author of Thailand’s CrisisThailand’s Boom and Bust, and Thaksin, and co-translator of The Tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen

The Ascendancy of Theravāda Buddhism is a welcome advance in the study of the neglected field of early Buddhism in Southeast Asia, especially in Thailand. The author presents new ideas about the ancient cultural geography of South and Southeast Asia, bringing fresh insights to the perennial problem of ‘Indianization’—the translation of ideas, ideals, and technologies from India to societies across the Bay of Bengal. His presentation of the early Buddhist period challenges established opinions and offers alternative views of the complexities and uncertainties that uniquely shaped Buddhism.”
—Peter Skilling, École Française d’Extrême-Orient, Bangkok, and Honorary Associate, Department of Indian Sub-Continental Studies, University of Sydney

About the author

Prapod Assavavirulhakarn is dean of the Faculty of Arts at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand, where he is also assistant professor and head of the Department of Eastern Languages. He is co-author of Past Lives of the Buddha: Wat Si Chum—Art, Architecture and Inscriptions.


  • Absorbing, provocative account of the introduction and rise of Buddhism in Southeast Asia
  • Skillfully traces the origins and sources of Buddhism in the region
  • Draws on an extensive range of source material from various Asian countries
  • Challenges established theories and understandings through a probing examination of how Buddhism is practiced by its followers

Book Reviews


    Southeast Asia | Thailand | Buddhism | religious history | epigraphy | indigenous beliefs | archeology