Agency and the Other: The Role of Agency for the Importance of Belief in Buddhist and Christian Traditions:

Julia Cassaniti

Abstract

Belief is important in some religious experiences and not in others. Why? I address the question here through an analysis of belief in two different religious communities in Northern Thailand. In the Northern Thai Buddhist community of Mae Jaeng the Thai term for belief is rarely evoked, while in the nearby Christian community of Mae Min it occurs often. Tying belief to ideas about causation, I argue that the different prominence of belief in the two communities relates to ideas about personal agency. In the Christian community belief creates personal agency through the mediation of an external agentive Other, while in the Buddhist community personal agency is seen to be constructed through natural processes that render belief unnecessary. In making this argument I offer a critique of the ubiquity of belief as part of religious experience, and push for further research on the intersections of belief, agency, and intersubjectivity in psychological anthropology.