ISBN: 9788776940195

Making Fields of Merit: Buddhist Female Ascetics and Gendered Orders in Thailand


By Monica Lindberg Falk

2007. 298 (xv+283) pp.
Paperback, 15x23 cm
23 b/w illustrations, 2 tables, 1 map

Religion plays a central role in Thai society with Buddhism intertwined in the daily lives of the people. Religion also plays an important role in establishing gender boundaries. The growth in recent decades of self‐governing nunneries and the increasing interest of Thai women in a Buddhist monastic life are notable changes in the religion/gender dynamic. This anthropological study considers religion and gender relations through the lens of the lives, actions, and roles in Thai society of Buddhist nuns (mae chii).

Making Fields of Merit presents a unique ethnography of Thai Buddhist nuns, examines what it implies to be a female ascetic in contemporary Thailand, and analyzes how the ordained state for women fits into the wider gender patterns found in Thai society. The study also deals with the nuns' agency in creating religious space and authority for women. It raises questions about how the position of Thai Buddhist nuns outside the Buddhist Sangha affects their religious legitimacy and describes recent moves to restore a Theravada order of female monks.

What others are saying

“The book is an excellent introduction for students and those who are interested in gaining further insight into the religious experiences of Buddhist women and nuns in Thailand. It is also sympathetically written reflecting the deep affection the author has for her informants whose life as Buddhist female renunicants is by no means easy, as we analyse and objectify their daily struggle from comfortable chairs” — Hiroko Kawanami, Lancaster University, ASEASUK News

“Monica Lindberg Falk presents an in‐depth ethnography of the mae chii in Thailand. Her rigorous methodology, which included participant observation by staying at samnak chiis (mae chiis’ temples) renders a fine‐grained ethnology of some groups of the mae chiis. . . Falk’s work is to be commended for eradicating the stereotype that mae chiis are elderly widowed women or young women who have been ill or suffered misfortune and for showing that they, in fact, come from diverse backgrounds and that their motives for receiving ordination are mostly based on genuine spiritual convictions” — Rodney Sebastian, National University of Singapore, Asian Journal of Social Science


  • First monograph on the lives and aspirations of Thai Buddhist nuns
  • Presents a unique ethnography of the nuns’ lives and examines what it means to be a female ascetic in contemporary Thailand
  • Analyzes how the ordained state for women fits into the wider gender patterns found in Thai society

About the Author

Monica Lindberg Falk received her PhD. from Gothenburg University’s Department of Social Anthropology in 2002. She is now conducting post‐doctoral research and teaches at the Centre for East and Southeast Asian Studies, Lund University, Sweden. Her research interests include gender, Buddhism, anthropology of disaster, ethnography, religious movements, women’s movements, ritual and power, HIV/AIDS, religion and development and social change in Southeast Asia. Her scholarship includes extensive fieldwork in Thailand. Her current research project is on gender and Buddhism’s role in the recovery process after the tsunami catastrophe in Thailand. The project is funded by the Swedish Research Council, VR.


    Thailand | buddhism | anthropology | gender | nunnery

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