Agency and Belief Is Kamma "Natural"? Appraising Julia Cassaniti's Argument

Milos Hubina


In this paper I am assessing Julia Cassaniti’s (2012, 2015) claim that Buddhists in Thailand perceive religious concepts (specifically "kamma") as natural entities, comparable to natural laws. Her claim is based on, and intended to lend empirical support to, Don Handelman's thesis that formal character of cosmologies determines the emphasis a religious tradition puts on "belief". Cassaniti expands on the thesis proposing that cosmology and belief are connected through people's representation of agency. I am arguing that Cassaniti misrepresents the relationship between public discourse and real representations of religious concepts and, more specifically, discounts cultural conventions informing the Thai way of  using langue. Thai religious and cultural practices also clearly indicate a situation incongruent with Cassaniti's assertion that agency is perceived by Thai Buddhist as inherent to the acting subject which is fully responsible for both its present actions and their broader, kammically determined, cosmological context. Lastly, I am pointing out some problems related to her analysis of data collected through interviews.




Theravāda Buddhism, agency, belief, religious representations, research, Julia Cassaniti

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