George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Spirit Cults, Religion, and Performative Peace in Cambodia

by Douglas Irvin-Erickson

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  • Published Date: 2016
  • Display Date: October 3, 2016
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillian
  • ISBN: 978-1-137-56850-2


This chapter focuses on the growth of spirit cults in Cambodia since the end of the Democratic Kampuchea regime through an examination of the most common type of tutelary spirit, neak ta, in Kompong Tralach in Kep Province. The role of neak ta is discussed in relation to Buddhism through their representation in local legends and myths, as reported by villagers and monks, and as the focus of rituals and ceremonies, including some conducted in a Buddhist temple, Wat Kompong Tralach. This provides ethnographic data showing that during and following the destruction of Buddhism under the Khmer Rouge, and the resulting loss of monks and knowledgeable lay Buddhist specialists, Cambodians turned increasingly to older traditions such as the belief in the power and efficacy of neak ta to help fill a void. This examination of the enduring place and growing importance of beliefs such as the neak ta cult within Khmer cosmology and religious practice following decades of war and recovery deepens our understanding of the reconstruction of Buddhism in Cambodia.

Other Contributors

Peter C. Phan

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