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Department of Anthropology

Academic Staff

Publication details for Dr Claudia Merli

Merli, C. (2010). Context-bound Islamic theodicies: The tsunami as supernatural retribution versus natural catastrophe in Southern Thailand. Religion 40(2): 104-111.

Author(s) from Durham


After the tsunami of 26 December 2004, local discourses in the prevalently Muslim Satun province in Southern Thailand were characterized by religious interpretations of the disaster. The range of Islamic interpretations varied, and was far from homogeneous. Statements are framed in plural theodicies and ultimately impute disasters to human responsibility, in apparent contrast to both scientific explanations and other Islamic tenets. The aim of this article is to present the range of theodicies associated with the event and to analyze their use in relation to the specific socio-historical and ethno-political context, in the words of people belonging to the Islamic and Buddhist religious élites. In these examples religious discourses leave behind the theological universalistic explanations of the existence of suffering and evil to become context bound commentaries on the state of morality of local communities, with the aim of defining social boundaries.