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My annual January “get out of cold New York City” vacation was effectively ruined in the lounge of the Unification Theological Seminary. Shortly before I left for Thailand at the end of December 2016 I was describing my plans for a month in sunny Thailand when a student said “Oh, you’ll be in Bangkok for New Year’s. That should be wild!” Another student chimed in “And the Chinese New Year’s too!” “Double the fun and double the pleasure,” I responded, and everyone laughed.

The comment that ruined my vacation and turned it from a month of cheap red wine, beaches, exotic food, and maybe a body-sized tattoo into a month of research, writing, note-taking, and eventually a 15,000-word essay with footnotes for the Journal of Unification Studies, came from one of the new members of the Unification movement. Like most new converts, every law, rule, and even suggestion is scrupulously observed. “You’ll also be there for God’s Day.” There was a pause, and I said, “I never heard of that holiday; what is it?”

So was my fun-filled month in decadent Thailand transformed into a month-long voyage of research that ended with the article you are now reading.

The major premise of this paper is that a calendar is an essential instrument for uniting members of a religious group. A unique calendar firmly anchors a religious group in time, provides a distinct history and predicts a glorious future, distinguishes them from other groups; provides them with a temporal structure for their daily lives; celebrates their ancient founders, heroes, and leaders; and orients them to specific geographical locations.

This paper will roughly follow my one-month (January 2017) tour of Thailand and the various calendars I encountered there during my travels. My thesis is that while calendars are ideally essential instruments in uniting followers into a distinct people, in that nation the various calendars employed by its diverse religious groups have become instruments of division, conflict, and even warfare that risk tearing the country apart.

Publisher's Statement

Originally published in the Journal of Unification Studies, 18, 191-220. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. The original material can be found here.

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