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Prosperity Buddhism in Burma/Myanmar

This lecture series is presented by Niklas Foxeus, Associate Professor (Docent) Department of Ethnology, History of Religions and Gender Studies, Stockholm University. Read more about his research here.


Part 1: Prosperity Buddhism in Southeast Asia and East Asia

About the lecture

In this part, Dr. Foxeus focuses on how for a long-time people in Burma/Myanmar have turned to the traditional spirit (nat) cult of the 37 Lords for economic success, health, and protection. In most historical periods throughout the world, people have turned to local spirits, saints, or gods wishing to gain prosperity, wealth, good harvests, protection, and health, thereby giving a return gift if their wish is granted. Nevertheless, Dr. Foxeus notes that religious cults focusing on prosperity have become more widespread since the 1990s, not merely in Burma/Myanmar but globally, and tries to expand on these aspects in this lecture. 


Part 2: The Emergence of Novel Cults in Burma/Myanmar

About the lecture

In this part of the lecture, Dr. Foxeus focuses on three aspects:

1) what he calls the moralization of wealth acquisition;

2) a narrative that is recurrent within the new cults of being sent to the human realm to promote Buddhism; and

3) Dr. Foxeus takes on a discussion on the various techniques by which Burmese Buddhists seek to acquire prosperity and success in business, especially possession rituals. 


Part 3: An Emerging Religious Market: Ritual Specialists and Devotees

About the lecture

As explained above, the emergence of novel cults in Myanmar has led to a general restructuring of the religious field in Burma that has developed since around the early 1990s, partly due to new economic opportunities, modernization, and urbanization. In this part, Professor Foxeus focuses on the emergence of a religious market, in which female ritual specialists, male and female cult leaders (bodaws and mehdaws), but also some spirit-medium monks compete with one another for attracting clients. 


Part 4: Instruments to Gain Prosperity: Magic Money, Possession Rituals, and Prediction of Lottery Numbers

About the lecture

In this part, Dr. Foxeus talks about the several ways in which prosperity can be gained through these cults, with a focus on magic money, prediction of lottery numbers, and possession rituals. Magic money is one instrument by which devotees seek to gain prosperity. They put these magic banknotes in their wallets, recite some verses, and hope they will gain prosperity through them and that will make their money multiply in a miraculous way. On the other hand, in the novel cults that emphasize prosperity and success in business, a new form of possession rituals has evolved, which is often wild and uncontrolled. These rituals were transformed versions of earlier rituals from the traditional spirit cult of the 37 Lords.


Part 5: Prediction of Lottery Numbers by the Spirits

About the lecture

Continuing the discussion in the last video, Dr. Foxeus talks about one more method through which these cults promise prosperity, and that is betting through illegal ‘active lotteries’ which invite gamblers to select the numbers they wish to bet on. Predictions of the winning lottery numbers in the Burmese two-digit and the Thai three-digit illegal lotteries are important in these novel cults. Both mediums and devotees predict the winning lottery numbers while possessed by the guardians of the treasure trove, especially the child spirits from the treasure trove.