IV-5. “Toward a New Theory of Folk Beliefs in Southeast Asia: Rediscovering the Value of the Research of Mori Mikio and Phraya Anuman Rajadhon” (R2-3 FY2020-2021)

  • Project Leader : Jie Huang (Nagoya University, Institute for Advanced Research)
  • Collaborators : Kataoka Tatsuki (Kyoto University, Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies)
  • : Nakanishi Yuji (Japan Women’s University, Department of Humanities and Cultures, Faculty of Integrated Arts and Social Sciences)
  • : Kitazawa Naohiro (Kyoto University, Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies)
  • : Tsumura Fumihiko (Meijo University, Faculty of Foreign Studies)
  • : Nara Masashi (The National Museum of Ethnology, Department of Cross-Field Research)
  • : Kobayashi Satoru (Kyoto University, Center for Southeast Asian Studies)

Outline of Research

This research focuses on the religious syncretism of existing religions, or indigenous beliefs, with foreign religions in the substratum of Mainland Southeast Asian societies from the 20th century to the present. This research discusses and reconsiders the value of a series of research results from Mori Mikio and Phraya Anuman Rajadhon, who were the first pioneers of Southeast Asian folklore studies. Inspired by a reexamination of their studies, members will develop up-to-date research on the studies of folk beliefs in Southeast Asia, especially to explore and clarify various aspects of beliefs, such as the God of Land, the spiritual medium, and the Prophet. Through observing the dynamics of such beliefs, which do not fit into prevailing religious frameworks, and conducting comparative study of field investigations across mainland Southeast Asian countries, this collaborative research extends new theories and fields of folk beliefs to Southeast Asian studies.


The purpose of this research is to investigate and explain the dynamics and contemporary development of folk beliefs in Southeast Asia through case studies of the syncretism of indigenous beliefs and foreign religions in Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Southern China, which can be observed as a common phenomenon of a substratum of Mainland Southeast Asian societies from the 20th century to the present.

To date, folk beliefs in mainland of Southeast Asia have been analyzed based on the concept of religious syncretism and a hierarchal and static schema of functional divisions that situates Buddhism on a higher level. In recent years, some scholars have tried to transcend this static research pattern and began to pay attention to more dynamic non-Buddhist factors, such as the worship and sacrifice of the gods of the land, or worship and sacrifice of the spiritual medium in Buddhist societies. However, these studies are confined to discussions around the coexistence or existence of non-Buddhist elements within Buddhism, without making much effort to investigate folk beliefs themselves. This study examines various folk religious phenomena in Southeast Asia to further develop the field of research on regional folk beliefs, which has not made much progress after the 20th century.

Research of folk beliefs in Southeast Asia have been largely neglected by scholars since the works of Mori Mikio and Phraya Anuman Rajadhon. Project members will reinterpret the importance of their works and apply them to our own field investigations. By clarifying common cultural characteristics of each country and analyzing the dynamics of how folk beliefs have developed in different countries, we aim to clarify the various characteristics of religion in each country. Through these efforts, this project makes it possible to paint a picture of folk beliefs across Southeast Asia and related areas such as Southern China as basic data. From this data, we expect to better understand new developments that have emerged from the ongoing negotiations among folk beliefs, existing Buddhism, foreign religious beliefs of immigrants, and the political power of states.

the Tai Yai (or ethnic “Burmese” Shan) people in Chiang Mai city,Thailand are preparing for celebrating the Thadingyut, which is a traditional festival of their homeland Myanmar

In Chiang Rai County, Thailand, there is a newly formed village of the Tai Lue people migrated across the border from Yunnan, China, in which a guardian spirit temple brought from their origin was bulit and worshiped