Dr. Justin McDaniel | Mapping the City of the Gods: Bangkok, Ethnicity, and the Galactic Polity (Yin Cheng Distinguished Lecture Series)

University of Oxford 

Yin-Cheng Distinguished Lecture Series 

Justin McDaniel  

Mapping the City of the Gods: Bangkok, Ethnicity, and the Galactic Polity 

All Welcome (In person and online)

4 December 2023 at 2:00-3:30pm  

Spalding Room (3rd floor) 

Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies  

Pusey Lane  

Oxford, OX1 2LE  

Live-streamed via YouTube   

English channel: youtube.com/live/ZMQRGoUOMJw

Chinese channel: youtube.com/live/tB5jWFMUGbA  


Stanley Tambiah’s idea of the Galactic Polity, alongside previous ways of defining urban centers in Southeast Asia as Mueang, Mandala, or Nagara have been very useful in trying to understand the ritual, symbolic, and political ways of defining royal centers of power in the region. However, all-encompassing definitions always exclude as much as they include. This paper explores ways of understanding the founding and growth of the last Buddho-Brahmanic royal city of Southeast Asia — Bangkok. What and who gets excluded in the galactic polity and how does the ethnic history of the city help revisit the ways in which we understand the first 250 years of one of the world’s great cities. 

About the speaker

Justin McDaniel’s research foci include Lao, Thai, Pali and Sanskrit literature, art and architecture, and manuscript studies. His first book, Gathering Leaves and Lifting Words, won the Harry Benda Prize. His second book, The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magic Monk, won the Kahin Prize. His third book, Architects of Buddhist Leisure, was supported by grants from the NEH and Kyoto University. His recent books — Wayward Distractions: Studies in Thai Buddhism (National University of Singapore and Kyoto University Presses) and Cosmologies and Biologies: Siamese Illuminated Manuscripts (Holberton) are detailed studies of literature and art in Siam in the 18th and 19th centuries. He also has published edited volumes on Asian Manuscripts and Material Culture, Buddhist Biographies, Buddhist Art, Buddhist Ritual, Buddhist Literature. He has published over 100 articles and book reviews on a wide variety of subjects in Buddhist Studies, Material Culture, and Religious Studies. He also has forthcoming work on the study of Human Flourishing and the Discipline of Religious Studies and the state of Humanities education in the 21st century. He has received grants from the NEH, Mellon, Rockefeller, Fulbright, PACRIM, Luce, the SSRC, among others. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and fellow of Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies. He has won teaching and advising awards at Harvard University, Ohio University, the University of California, and the Ludwig Prize for Teaching at Penn. He was named one of the top ten most innovative professors in America by the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2019 and his work on pedagogical methods have been featured on NPR, Huffington Post, CNN, Washington Post, and many other venues. 


Edoardo Siani 

Edoardo Siani is Assistant Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at Ca’Foscari University of Venice. He writes about the relationship between Buddhist cosmology and politics in Thailand via long-term ethnographic explorations of practices including divination, political protest and royal ritual. Edoardo received a PhD in Anthropology and Sociology from SOAS (University of London), was Researcher and Assistant Professor at Kyoto University’s CSEAS, Research Associate at SOAS, and Adjunct Professor at Thammasat University. He has contributed to media outlets including BBC and The New York Times. 

About the Yin-Cheng Distinguished Lecture Series: 

Launched in September, 2021, the Yin-Cheng Distinguished Lecture Series (印證佛學傑出學術系列講座) is a collaborative, multi-university partnership between Peking University, University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Inalco (Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales), Princeton University, Harvard University, and the University of British Columbia. The Lecture Series is established in honour of Venerable Cheng-yen 證嚴, founder of Tzu Chi, and her mentor Yinshun 印順 (1906–2005), with the goal of promoting topics in Buddhist Studies. 

The lecture will be in person and live-streamed via YouTube with simultaneous English and Mandarin channels. 

The online audience can ask questions through live comments on YouTube.  

Tea and snacks will be served at 3:30-4:30pm in Common Room in the basement of the faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.  

All enquiries: Kate.Crosby@ames.ox.ac.uk