Toward A New Buddhist Constitutionalism
: Law and Religion in the Kingdom of Thailand

  • Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis offers a comprehensive view of Thai Buddhist constitutionalism, the fundamental theory on state, governance, and law in Buddhist-majority Thailand. Despite a major modernization reform over a century ago, Buddhism remains a powerful ideology of the Thai state. This thesis discusses also how Buddhist constitutionalism interacts with the modern norms of liberal democratic constitutionalism. It discovers two important features of the Thai legal system regarding religions. First, the constitutional system guarantees religious freedom but not religious equality. Second, state accommodation of a religion leads to a loss of autonomy. Thus, although Buddhism is the dominant religion, it is subject to a heavy monitoring scheme that hinders its freedom to operate. The Thai legal system shows that its understanding of human rights is different from the universal standard. This thesis argues that such arrangements are the result of Buddhist constitutionalism. Looking at various sources of contemporary Buddhism debates, the dissertation considers Buddhism’s hierarchical socio-political structure with the sacred king at the zenith, Buddhist-infused justice system and the emphasis on the Buddhist-style rule of law, as well as a notion of duty over rights. These traditional ideas clash with liberal democratic constitutionalism, which is characterized by an egalitarian political culture, the sanctity of written law, and the respect of rights and liberties. This dissonance brings tensions and conflicts, both within the religion and with other religious minorities. By exposing these difficulties, the thesis clears the way and makes suggestions for new forms of reconciliation in the constitutional field.
Date of Award23 Jan 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorA J Rivers (Supervisor)


  • Buddhism
  • Law
  • Thailand
  • Constitutionalism

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