Chean R. Men

Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Ledgerwood, Judy, 1959-

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Anthropology


Khmers--Religion; Medicine; Magic; mystic; and spagiric--Cambodia; Medical anthropology--Cambodia; Rites and ceremonies--Cambodia; Cambodia--Religious life and customs


This thesis examines the lieng arak healing ritual, which plays an important role in Khmer traditional medical practice. It demonstrates that the lieng arak ritual is performed as a therapeutic technique, framed within the Khmer belief system, which is made up of Buddhism and Animism. I present various theoretical approaches which attempt to explain the religious complex of mainland Southeast Asia as a single ?total? field of religious system or as two separate systems. However, I propose that this religious complex can better be understand with a model I call ?polyphonic stratification.? Using both primary and secondary data sources, I describe the lieng arak ritual into two phases: first as a diagnostic stage and second as a paying of gratitude. The first stage involves ritual possession as a way to find the nature of illness. Once the cause has been identified, bargains with the spirit can be made to restore the disrupted relationship. The second is performed to re-invite the spirits to come for entertainment and to conduct the healing process. From the analysis of various symbols, I argue that these act as social symbols represented through the ritual performance. The healer, the audience or the community, and the patient him or herself, understand through these symbols that the illness is cured and the ill person is reintegrated into the normal state. Due to lack of ritual specialists, musical ensembles, changes in the conceptualization of spirit categories (which may be due to the physical environment), and the loosening of ties in social relationships, it is not possible to conduct lieng arak healing rituals in the United States. Thus, I argue that the efficacy of the lieng arak healing ritual is embedded in a complex web of social interaction and religious experience. It is the social representations and interpretations of social symbols that make the illness and healing experience meaningful.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [97]-101).


vii, 101 pages




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