Reflections from our 2016 Stirling Prize Award winner: Julia Cassaniti
Living Buddhism: Mind, Self and Emotion in a Thai Community (Cornell University Press, 2015) investigates Theravada Buddhist teachings on impermanence, attachment, and karma as understood by a small group of people in a rural area of Northern Thailand. The Buddhist teaching of impermanence emphasizes the idea that change is a fundamental aspect of the world; Living Buddhism demonstrates how the Buddhist teaching of impermanence affects the ways that people think and feel about themselves and their surroundings. Emotion is key, because it is largely through affective engagements, including ritual and interpersonal ones, that people practice thriving in a world of change. By showing how cognitive constructs and affective practices are tied up in every day experiences with teachings that emphasize constant change, Julia Cassaniti argues that emotion can not be considered an individual or statebased phenomenon, but rather as part of interpersonal (intersubjective) relationships of social groups. The argument is made through personal narratives of individuals over time, and in doing so engages with anthropological questions about the role of elite and nonspecialist knowledge and personal agency. The book includes an extended case study of a man named Sen, who develops a debilitating addiction to alcohol and eventually finds himself in a series of regional hospitals for liver cirrhosis. Tracing the ways that Sen and his family and friends (including a group of Christian, Karen neighbors from a village nearby) understand his problems and those of others around him, the book demonstrates how emotion and mental health work in the everyday lives of people in Northern Thailand. Inspired by Shweder and LeVine’s Culture Theory: Essays on Mind, Self and Emotion, Living Buddhism: Mind, Self and Emotion in a Thai Community offers new ways to think about the role of the individual in local and global worlds. Written in a highly accessible, narrative style, Living Buddhism is geared to appeal to university students and scholars of cultural, psychological, and medical anthropology.
Julia Cassaniti is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Washington State University. Her research examines the ways that religious ideas are interwoven into the psychology of everyday life in contemporary Thailand and around the world.