The Aesthetic of Power: A Critical Study on the Politics of Representations at Wat Benchama Bophit and Wat Phra Sri Mahathat, Bangkhen

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Koompong Noobanjong


Despite the decline of theocratic regimes in the modern age, religious structures have continued to
serve the state as a grand symbolic device through associations with divine authorities and spiritual devotions,
as evident from the designs of exquisite churches, mosques, and temples, commissioned by the ruling elites
around the globe. For Siam and Thailand, the practice of erecting such “sacred-cum-secular” architecture
is illustrated by the constructions of Wat Benchama Bophit during King Rama V’s absolutist reign and Wat
Phra Sri Mahathat, Bangkhen after the 1932-democratic revolution. Via discourse and iconographical analyses,
this research presents a critical inquiry on the aforementioned Buddhist temples in Bangkok regarding their
roles in: 1) providing a means of power meditation for the governments; 2) representing a material embodiment
for the creations of national and cultural identities known as Thainess or khwampenthai; and 3) serving
as a strategic tool to implement social policies as well as to prescribe political ideologies for the populaces.
The study also examines the ways in which each building functioned in its socio-political contexts for the
Thais to engage the West and modernity, by utilizing Thainess as a mode of problematization. The upcoming
comparative discussions on both temples aim to further self-reflexive dialogues among power, ideology, Thai
identity, and the built environment, particularly on the formations and revisions of architectural meanings.


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