Northern Thai Theravada Folk Buddhism through the Eyes of Buddhist Background Believers
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NORTHERN THAI THERAVADA FOLK BUDDHISM THROUGH THE EYES OF BUDDHIST BACKGROUND BELIEVERS Nicholas Blaine Walburn, PhD The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2018 Chair: Dr. George H. Martin The research in this dissertation reveals that the testimonies of Northern Thai Buddhist background believers include two themes: relationship as a motivator for religious adherence and tradition. These themes are present in shared descriptions of their former practice as folk Buddhists. These themes are also prominent in their testimonies of how they came to Christ and in their current practices as Christians. Chapter 1 presents the research question and methodology. The research question is “What trends are present in the testimonies of formerly Buddhist Northern Thai Christians?” Methodology includes literature review, interviews, narrative analysis, and grounded theory. Chapter 2 contains a description of historical folk Buddhism and recounts the history of Christian mission in Northern Thailand. This chapter presents the reader with historical instances of many ritual forms that are present in respondents’ accounts. Chapter 3 includes respondents’ answers to interview questions and organizes them according to two themes: relationship as a motivator for religious adherence and tradition. Their answers provide composite narratives of how respondents left folk Buddhism and became Christians. Chapter 4 includes interaction with themes identified in respondents’ accounts and pertinent literature. Chapter 5 is composed of suggestions for ministry and evangelism among Northern Thai folk Buddhists based upon identified themes from respondents’ accounts and pertinent literature. Chapter 6 summarizes findings and emphasizes the importance of relationships as motivators for religious adherence. Also highlighted is the prominent place of traditions among Northern Thai folk Buddhists. Concluding chapters discuss the importance of understanding these themes for researching Northern Thai folk Buddhism and for furthering Christian missions in Northern Thailand. This dissertation highlights the need for Northern Thai Christians to form gospel-centered relationships when evangelizing and making disciples among Northern Thai folk Buddhists. Also emphasized are traditional elements of the folk Buddhist worldview that act as barriers to Christian evangelism and discipleship in Northern Thailand. Because this dissertation is written from a Christian worldview, suggestions intended to further acceptance of the gospel among Northern Thai folk Buddhists are included.