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Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière

CNRS Research Fellow - Statutory Members
Statutory Members
Institution(s) de rattachement : CNRS

Coordonnées professionnelles

Professional contact information


CNRS bronze medal, 1992

Qualified to direct research (Habilitée à diriger des recherches), EHESS, June 2009




  • 1975-1977- Associate’s degree in Sociology, Université de Lyon II.
  • 1977-1979- Master’s degree in Social Anthropology, Université René Descartes, Paris V.
  • 1977-1982- Study of Burmese at the INALCO; research and applied studies degree in Burmese: “Les rapports administratifs d’un district irrigué de Birmanie,” thesis directed by Ms. Bernot.
  • 1981-1982- Study of Burmese at the University of Arts and Sciences of Rangoon (YAZU), Burma and initial fieldwork in Rangoon suburbs.
  • 1984- PhD in Social Anthropology, EHESS: “Une communauté urbaine de Basse Birmanie,” dissertation directed by Ms Bernot; committee: Mr. Condominas and Ms. Giteau. Highest honors.
  • 1986-1989- Study of Bengali at the INALCO



Burma is the setting of my work, and its general aim is the analysis of the cultural models at the basis of Burmese society.

The Burmese have been under-researched by anthropologists, with the notable exceptions of the work of the two Americans M. Nash and M. Spiro, whose fieldwork took place before 1962, and that of L. Bernot, E. Leach and F. Lehman, which is peripheral to the Burmese population properly speaking. The isolation which the governing bodies imposed on their country after the coup of 1962 almost completely interrupted fieldwork-based research by foreign scholars and anthropology is almost completely untaught in Burma. In the early 80s, when I began my fieldwork in Burma, the conditions were quite singular and young anthropologists trying to tackle them extremely rare (two French people and a Dutch person working at the SOAS). The situation did not change until 1988 and it is only recently that a tentative anthropology of the Burmese has emerged.

After my dissertation, which was on the urbanization of the Burmese in a suburb of Rangoon, my research became focused on the Burmese possession cult, which addresses itself to the pantheon of the “37 Naq.” This pantheon includes the tutelary spirits of the constitutive spheres of the Burmese realms from before royalty as an institution succumbed to the assaults of British colonization in 1885. Today, the pantheon of these spirits is the object of a very widely practiced possession cult, which exists alongside Theravada Buddhism, the dominant religion. While it seemed to be a marginal phenomenon in this Buddhist country, its liveliness in urban settings, in forms that had not yet been described, led me to undertake its study. I began with a monograph published in 1989, then continued this study because it has a dual advantage with regard to the ethnography of the Burmese: first, it is possible to observe the cults and rituals although the limits imposed on fieldwork-based research remain restrictive in the country; furthermore, the cult of the 37 Naq provides a good angle of approach for the interpretation of this complex society, as it spans the various levels of social segmentation by meshing local cults with the general cult of the 37 Naq.

The rare descriptions that already existed—those of the folklorist C. Temple, of the ethnologist M. Spiro and of the rare Burmese authors who took an interest in this cult—are very spotty and do not give a complete picture of the cult, or do not provide a sociological interpretation of it. Nor do they tackle the analysis of the rich and complex rituals, an analysis that, conversely, is the starting point of my interpretations. From this point of view, my work on the Burmese possession cult is innovative. It has allowed me to address the connections between locality and central institutions as well as the way in which Burmese identity has constructed itself on the basis of regionalisms; this identity is still being defined, and the cult continues to be a marker of this process.

Since the 1989 monograph, I have been invested in using my successive fieldwork materials to analyze the ritual categories that had not yet been addressed in that book, in particular the important local rituals. I have taken into account some atypical cases in order to further refine my interpretation. The cycle constituted by the local rituals in central Burma has been brought to light. The way the cult fits into the society as a whole has been approached in various different ways: through the ritual forms, representations and the Burmese thought system, and finally the Burmese configuration of the political and the religious. This research goes hand in hand with reflection on the role of possession cults in Buddhist Asia within the wider field of studies on shamanism.

At a later stage, I broadened my research by systematically broadening my perspective on the phenomena linked to the cult of the 37 Naq, and connecting them to those of other symbolic systems, such as Buddhism, royalty, etc., in order to show how the various components of Burmese religion only make sense when considered in relation to one another. In particular, I continued my study of Burmese rituality, considered from an overall point of view, exploring the distribution of ritual forms over the different symbolic systems and comparing them with neighboring countries that also practice Theravada Buddhism (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos); this method makes it possible to shed light on the significant differences and better understand the specificity of Burmese society.



In my fieldwork, I am faced with considerable reformulations of religious configuration, reformulations that are linked to more general developments—political, social, and economic. I have started analyzing the way in which different specialists of religion—monks, mediums, exorcists—position themselves in this changeable world, the shifts in the limits between areas and practices, the processes of heritagization and merchandization… Another segment of my research is devoted to more general questions of appropriation by Southeast Asian societies of religions with universalist vocations and the constitution of the religious field.



  • Local Traditions and World religions - Franco-German ANR 2011-2013 (co-directed with Annette Hornbacher)
  • Ritual practices
  • Potent places




  • Comparative anthropology of continental Southeast Asia, 1st- and 2nd-year Master’s, South and East Asia emphasis, EHESS

Administrative and research-related responsibilities

  • Chairing of an inter-center research group on comparative anthropology of Buddhisms, in collaboration with Nicolas Silhé





  • 2015“Ma Ba Tha. Les trois syllabes du nationalisme religieux birman”, in Asie du Sud-Est 2015, Bangkok, IRASEC: 31-44.
  • 2015« The ‘Frying Pan’ Abbot. The Rise and Fall of a Burmese Preaching Monk ». Contemporary Buddhism: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 21p.
  • 2015« Possession and Rebirth in Burma (Myanmar) » Contemporary Buddhism : An Interdisciplinary Journal,
  • 2015 “Religious Donations, Ritual Offerings and Humanitarian Aid: Fields of Practice according to Forms of Giving in Burma”. In Religion Compass 9/11: Comparative anthropology of Buddhist transactions: moving beyond the Maussian terminology of the “gift.” Issue edited by: Nicolas Sihlè, Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière : 386–403. 10.1111/rec3.12187 Wiley Online
  • Forthcoming - « Initiation in the Burmese Ritual Landscape » Journal of Ethnology and Folkloristics.
  • Forthcoming - “About Buddhist Burma. Thathana, or “Religion” as social space”. In Encountering religion in Southeast Asia and beyond. Ed. M. Picard
  • Forthcoming -  “Recevoir les donations religieuses, exorciser, initier: Une journée d’un moine exorciste birman” Ed. Adeline Herrou.
  • 2016 - « Birmanie. Les douzes saisons d’une année électorale. » Asie du Sud-Est 2016, IRASEC : 115-131.
  • 2016- « Spirit Possession : An autonom Field of Practice in the Burmese Buddhist Culture » Journal of Burma Studies.
  • 2015 - « A generation of monks in the democratic transition». In Egreteau, Renaud, and Robinne, Francois, (eds.) Metamorphosis: Studies in Social and Political Change in Myanmar, Singapore: NUS Press: 320-345.ous Field of Practice in the Burmese Buddhist Culture » Journal of Burma Studies.
  • 2015 - “Religious Donations, Ritual Offerings and Humanitarian Aid: Fields of Practice according to Forms of Giving in Burma”. In Religion Compass 9/11: Comparative anthropology of Buddhist transactions: moving beyond the Maussian terminology of the “gift.” Issue edited by: Nicolas Sihlè, Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière : 386–403. 10.1111/rec3.12187 Wiley Online
  • 2015- “Ma Ba Tha. Les trois syllabes du nationalisme religieux birmans”, in Asie du Sud-Est 2015, Bangkok, IRASEC: 31-44.
  • 2015- « The ‘Frying Pan’ Abbot. The Rise and Fall of a Burmese Preaching Monk”. Contemporary Buddhism: An Interdisciplinary Journal
  • 2015- « Possession and Rebirth in Burma (Myanmar) » Contemporary Buddhism : An Interdisciplinary Journal,
  • 2014- « A Woman of Mediation » in Burmese Lives. Ordinary Life Stories Under the Burmese Regime, edited by Wen-Chin Chang & Tagliacozzo Eric, Oxford University Press, 71-83.
  • 2014- « Les représentations de naq en Birmanie comme vecteur d’intégration culturelle » with Maxime Boutry, in Ethnocentrisme et création. Edited by Anne Dupuis in collaboration with Jacques Ivanoff, FMSH : 323-348.
  • 2014- “Expériences des mondes spirituels et savoirs en Birmanie: la place de l’ethnographe” Moussons 23 : 81-100.
  • 2014- “Spirits versus Weikza: Two Competing Ways of Mediation”, in Champions of Buddhism. Weikza Cults in Contemporary Burma. Eds. Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière, Guillaume Rozenberg, and Alicia Turner, NUS Press Singapore : 54-79.
  • 2014- “La question religieuse dans la Birmanie en transition”, Asies.Visions 73, online publication IFRI Centre Asie, November 2014, 28 p.
  • 2013- “La nuit de l’énergie birmane. Ou la transmutation des simples en remèdes souverains » D’une anthropologie du chamanisme vers une anthropologie du croire,  Roberte Hamayon in memoriam, edited by K. Buffetrille, J.-L. Lambert, N. Luca and A. de Sales, EPHE, 451-463.
  • 2011- « Une femme de médiation : portrait en quatre prises de vue. » Portraits, Esquisses anthropographiques, edited by J. Massard-Vincent, S. Gamelin, C. Jungen, Paris, Edition Petra : 139-154.
  • 2011- « Un médium au quai Branly. Regards croisés autour d’une ethnographie birmane » in Ethnologues et passeurs de mémoires. Edited by Gaetano Ciarcia, Karthala-MSH-M : 133-151
  • 2011- « From Weikzahood to Mediumship. How to Master the World in Contemporary Burma” in Religion Kompass, Wiley Online Library.
  • 2011- « Being a spirit medium in contemporary Burma » in Engaging the Spirit World. Popular Beliefs and Practices in Modern Southeast-Asia, Eds. Kirsten W. Endres & Andrea Lauser, Berghahn Books, Asian Anthropologies 5, New York, Oxford : 163-184.
  • 2010- "Le scrutin de Nargis. Le cyclone de 2008 en Birmanie" Terrain 54 : 10-27.
  • 2010- “Quitter le monde pour y prendre sa place. Le noviciat bouddhique en Birmanie » in Moines et moniales de par le monde. La vie monastique au miroir de la parenté., Adeline Herrou and Gisèle Kraupskopff, Eds., Paris, L’Harmattan : 113-130.
  • 2009- "Les naq sont là !" Représentation et expérience dans la possession d’esprit birmane" Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions 145 (January-March 2009) : 33-50.
  • 2009- Sur les rives de l’Irrawaddy. Un Essai d’interprétation de la possession d’esprit dans la religion birmane. Habilitation memoir defended aht the EHESS, June 2009.
  • 2008-2009- L’ethnicité reconsidérée : éclairages sud-est asiatiques. Dossier collected with Bernard Formoso and Michel Picard, Aséanie, vols 21, 22, 23.
  • 2009- Power, Authority and Contested Hegemony in Burmese-Myanmar Religion. Hiroko Kawanami & Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière, Guest Editors, Asian Ethnology, vol 68-2.
  • 2007- « To Marry a Man or a Spirit ? Women, the Spirit Possession Cult and Domination in Burma » Women and the Contested State, Religion, Violence, and Agency in South and Southeast Asia, edited by Monique Skidmore and Patricia Lawrence, University of Notre Dame Press : 208-228.
  • 2006- « Les rituels de consécration des statues de Bouddha et de naq en Birmanie (Myanmar) » Purushartha 25, Hindu Rites, Transfers and Transformations, studies collected by G. Tarabout and G. Colas, Paris, EHESS, 201-236.
  • 2006- « Le traité des apparences du monde. Analyse des rituels de la royauté birmane d’après un traité du dix-huitième siècle » Les apparences du monde. Royautés hindoues et bouddhiques de l’Asie du Sud et du Sud-Est. Studies collected by Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière and Marie-Louise Reiniche, Paris, EFEO, Etudes thématiques 15 : 264-294.
  • 2005- « The Taungbyon Festival : Locality and Nation Confronting in the Cult of the « 37 Lords » Burma at the Turn of 21st Century, Edited by Monique Skidmore, Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press : 65-89.
  • 2000-, "Petite en Myanmar : destin et choix de vie d’une femme birmane", in L’énigme conjugale. Femmes et mariage en Asie. Texts gathered by J. Cauquelin, Anthropologie series, Presses Universitaires Blaise Pascal, 33-50.
  • 2000- " Bouddhismes et chamanisme en Asie", in La politique des esprits. Chamanismes et religions universalistes, published by Denise Aigle, Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière and Jean-Pierre Chaumeil, Nanterre, Société d’ethnologie, 17-24.
  • 1998- "Le ‘roulis de la Dame aux Flancs d’Or’. Une fête de naq atypique en Birmanie centrale", L’Homme, n°146, avril/juin 1998, 47-85.
  • (Birmanie)", Journal des Anthropologues, n°61-62, 41-66.
  • 1996- "Les naq birmans entre autochtonie et souveraineté", Diogène, n°174, 40-52.
  • 1995- "Légendes d’introduction du bouddhisme et zédi dans la capitale du Myanmar
  • 1998- "‘Etre épousée par un naq.’ Les implications du mariage avec l’esprit dans le culte de possession birman (Myanmar)", Anthropologie et Sociétés, vol.22, n°2 : 169-182.
  • 1993 -"La fête de Taunbyon : le grand rituel du culte des naq de Birmanie (Myanmar)", BEFEO, 79.2, pp. 201-232.
  • 1989- Les rituels de possession en Birmanie : du culte d’Etat aux cérémonies privées : Editions Recherche sur les Civilisations, ADPF, Paris, 227 p. + 15 illustrations.

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