Folktales and Politics of Humor: Case of the Vessantara Jataka in Thailand by Katherine Bowie
Thursday, April 19, 2018 - 6:30pm

Folktales and Politics of Humor: Case of the Vessantara Jataka in Thailand

Katherine Bowie, Professor of  Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Madison


Thursday, April 19, 2018

6:30 PM

Smith Memorial Student Union, Room 296-8 

(1825 SW Broadway)



About the Lecture - The meanings of folktales change over time. The Vessantara Jataka is the most famous of the hundreds of morality tales (jatakas) about the Buddha’s previous lives and was once better known among Buddhists than the Gautama Buddha’s historical life. In his birth as Prince Vessantara, the Buddha perfects the virtue of generosity by giving away not only all his possessions, but also his wife and children. In this talk Bowie highlights significant variations in the Vessantara Jataka’s interpretations across three regions of Thailand over the past 150 years. Exploring the ribald anti-royalist trickster humor of the beggar, Bowie considers the differential role of the court in suppressing comedic recitations across these regions in the 19th century. She concludes by noting the transformation of the story’s former emphasis on generosity to one celebrating prosperity as Thailand develops from a feudal into a capitalist society in the modern era. 

Free and open to the public!



 About the speaker
Katherine Bowie is a Professor of Anthropology at University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has conducted extensive research in Thailand for over 40 years. Combining archival research with oral histories, interviews and participant-observation, her work explores Thai peasant history, political economy, social movements, electoral politics, gender and, most recently, research on anthropological approaches to Theravada Buddhism. [Learn more about the speaker]


For more information, contact:
The PSU Institute for Asian Studies
tel. 503-725-8576