Gospel & Culture blog
News organizations like NBC and Reuters reported recently on a fad sweeping through Thailand: adult women are carrying dolls sold under the moniker “child angels” for good luck. The owners talk to their dolls, feed them snacks, and tell them how much they love them. And they report that their lives are better since they have adopted the figurines.
The news reports rightly identified this activity as “animistic” in that the Thai are animating the objects as if they have a volition and efficaciousness. However, I’m surprised that reporters were willing to put an ethnocentric label like “superstitious” on the new trend.
What is notable to me about Southeast Asian women taking such an interest in the dolls is how this demonstrates culture change and the remarkable way innovations are diffused. It’s not innovative to speak to dolls or carry them with you everywhere you go- or even wishing to purchase a plane seat for them. Young girls in Western countries have patterned these behaviors for decades. This Western cultural feature is simply being adopted and modified by older women in Thailand. If young Thai girls were inseparable from their dolls- or even attributed some good luck to them- we wouldn’t have taken notice. So we don’t have a case of superstition as much as adaptation of a Western innovation, which has been reorganized somewhat.
Regarding “superstition,” the craze does exhibit what James Frazer called the “law of similarity”. I think the logic may go something like this: Young, wealthy Western girls carry dolls and are healthy and wealthy; therefore, if I carry a doll like they do, I will enjoy the same sort of fortune.” What has allowed this imitative magical thinking to spread so quickly is that it is compatible with the traditional religion in Southeast Asia.
© 2015 Kenneth Nehrbass. All Rights Reserved.
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor