Beyond Buddhism and animism: A psychometric test of the structure of Burmese Theravada Buddhism

Mark Stanford, Jonathan Jong

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Abstract

Anthropologists and religious scholars have long debated the relationship between doctrinal Theravada Buddhism, so-called 'animism', and other folk practices in southeast Asian societies. A variety of models of this relationship have been proposed on the basis of ethnographic evidence. We provide the first psychometric and quantitative evaluation of these competing models, using a new scale developed for this purpose, the Burmese Buddhist Religiosity Scale. Having tested existing hypotheses in our first study (n = 2285) we formulated an alternative model, which was then tested in our second study (n = 3377). We argue that this model provides support for a two-dimensional distinction between great and little traditions, shedding light on decades-old theoretical debates. Far from being in conflict, the transnational religious tradition of the literati and the variegated religious practices of locals appear to be reflected in two complementary dimensions of religiosity. This distinction has been heretofore neglected in psychometric research, but arguably merits attention beyond Buddhism, in the psychology of religion more generally. Our findings suggest that, insofar as research on religiosity relies on doctrinal pronouncements denigrating little traditions as mere superstition, it may be blinded to a crucial dimension of religious life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e0226414
Number of pages18
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume14
Issue number12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 17 Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

Copyright: © 2019 Stanford, Jong. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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