Spirituality, Religion, and Community Structure

Cambodia’s formal religion is shaped by the Theravada Buddhist doctrine. Prior to this, animism and Hinduism were present. Elements of these are still present and Buddhism in Cambodia is sometimes referred to as ‘Khmer Buddhism’ (Agger 2015). These beliefs influence people’s worldview, responses to misfortune, poverty, psychosocial distress, and mental health and ill health; they form and shape coping strategies that people might adopt (Van de Put and Eisenbruch 2002; Ovesen and Trankell 2010).

Cambodian cosmology is based on a strict order; this translates into a hierarchal society and creates a map for correct behaviour. This in turn preserves order (Ovesen and Trankell 2010). Cambodia is divided into villages, communes, and districts and this hierarchy extends into these. Within each village there is a recognized structure including formal and informal positions, for example, village chiefs, village health volunteers, commune council members, traditional healers, monks, and elderly. It influences interpersonal interactions on many levels. Fatalism and karma are important elements of this (Chhim 2014) as are relationships with ancestors. When a person cannot organize the appropriate rituals at the death of a family member, the relationship to that person will be affected (Agger 2015; Hinton et al. 2013), and when order is disrupted (i.e. the correct code is violated), disorder of wellbeing, both mental and physical, can be caused (Ovesen and Trankell 2010).

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