Sing Suwannakij
PhD candidate
University of Copenhagen

Department of History, Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen

My project’s major concern is sight, various types of visuality and their transformations in Siam. In the part related to spirituality and space, I examine how the 19th-century vision, in relation to space, perceived religiosity. This involves the process in which the traditional space, such as that of, but not limited to, Traiphum (lit. three worlds) cosmography – where it was common that Buddha’s miracles, diverse heavenly beings and underworld creatures could appear to human sight, demonstrating the overlaps of vertical spaces – was shifted to a more horizontal vision which was focused on this-worldly affairs and geography. The scientifically informed ocularcentrism closed off the sky which was previously a repository for connections with other religious spaces. Instead, it prioritized physical eye and its extension via new scopic technologies, enhanced the micro and macro visions. This includes mapping areas in Bangkok (as well as other parts of the country) in response to urbanization as a result of opening up for the world market and colonial entanglement. The new spaces were concerned with resources, rather than religiosity, and measurement, rather than mythicization. Yet, religiosity did not disappear altogether: it underwent a complex transformation in relationship with modernity. It was increasingly turned into ‘things of the past’, its places of worship and objects into ‘antiquity and artifacts’ to be ‘discovered’ and deserved ‘historical investigation’. However, it also informed the present in new ways: rather than a simple continuity, the 19th-century Siamese state, identified religiosity in a very selective way, allowed only an officially approved version of it to thrive, and utilized it in the process of building absolutism and, later, nationalism.