Creative Sincerity: Thai Buddhist Karma Narratives and the Grounding of Truths:

Steven Carlisle


How do people become sincerely committed to shared beliefs? Many theories explain how people come to claim beliefs publicly, but provide inadequate explanations as to why they take these ideas seriously. I resolve this by adapting a form of practice theory to conceptualize shared meanings not as externally imposed social products, but as a creation of active psychosocial negotiations that reflect autobiographical narratives. Although the Thai Buddhist doctrine of karma is often expressed through abstract, transcendent theological propositions, people understand it through personal narratives grounded in a knowing self. Expressions of beliefs, then, should not be seen as statements of doctrines but, rather, as attempts to articulate a relationship between a self and an understanding of reality, negotiated through narrative. Although dogmas may summarize beliefs, they do not necessarily inspire them; commitments to beliefs are an effect of the narrative organization of experience. Ironically, sincere beliefs about objective realities are the creative products of individual minds. Locating belief in experiential narratives moves beyond deterministic notions of belief as institutionally defined dogmas, and allows one to see actions as reflecting sincere beliefs as well as the personal strategies often discussed in practice theory.

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