DORISEA & VICAS Joint Workshop

RELIGIOUS TRANSFORMATIONS IN MODERN SOUTHEAST ASIA

A joint workshop by DORISEA and VICAS (Vietnamese Institute of Culture and Arts Studies)

The entire Southeast Asian region is engaged in an accelerated change in the political, economic, social, medial and ultimately religious spheres. As such, the region is marked by transformations in the concept of religion and in religions themselves. During the workshop key areas of these transformations will be identified and theorized.

Dates: October 3-5, 2013

Location: Hanoi, Viet Nam

WORKSHOP TOPICS

I. Transformation of religion(s) in public spaces
Religions are becoming more visible. This is most evident is urban areas, for example through new or newly renovated temples and churches. There is a noteworthy disposition towards monumental constructions, as seen in the mega churches and large Buddhist complexes. The changes in design and utilization of these spaces are aligned to processes articulated in urban areas: tourism, temple festivals, "re-spiritualization" (i.e. feng shui practices), and the revival of pilgrimage practices. Along with this is the transformation (and occasional commodification) of religious architecture and ritualism in the rubric of cultural heritage. One observable feature is the transformation (and sometimes commodification) of religious architecture and ritualism in cultural heritage. The booming real estate market is an indicator of the fundamental shift in economic structures in urban areas and accordingly has an effect on religious dynamics in public spaces.

II. Religious transformation via mass media.
Mass media, radio, television and the internet have given religion a “new face” and new media formats are forcing a shift in religious teachings. In the field of entertainment - TV soaps, blockbuster movies, even in talent shows, etc., – religion assumes a direct or "disguised" role. One cannot separate the dynamics of religion changed by the media from the influence of secular powers such as state-funded education programs or in tourism marketing, which are also spread by the media, influence religious thought and perceptions and are embedded in history and identity constructions.

III. Religious transformation in rituals
Current forms of socio-economic differentiation have far-reaching implications not only on the religious needs of individual believers, but also on the socially determined dynamics of religious practice. The newly formed growing middle class is characterized by specific religious and aesthetic needs which are embedded in specific educational contexts and work and living situations. According to one thesis, the hardships of modernity are compensated through a market of religions and increasingly through an amount of spiritual offers that are usually articulated in rituals. Hence the rituals of traditional religion are adapted to current needs which result in increasing and new specifically constructed forms such as global yoga, wellness and meditation. As such, traditional living and work contexts that were once bound to religious and ritual implementation are now subject to profound changes. Beyond the factors of the middle class milieu one must investigate a pluralised socio-cultural milieu and the shift in the social and economic structures of ritual communities and their consequences on religious practice.

 

For further information, please contact:
Dr. Karin Klenke
Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology
University of Goettingen
Berliner Str. 28
D-37073 Goettingen
Tel.: +49 (0) 551 / 39-20153
Fax: +49 (0) 551 / 39-7359
E-Mail: dorisea@uni-goettingen.de

RELIGIOUS TRANSFORMATIONS IN MODERN SOUTHEAST ASIA

In alphabetical order:

Katarzyna Ancuta (Assumption University, Bangkok)

Peter Bräunlein (University of Göttingen, Germany)

Bui Quang Thang (Vietnam Institute of Culture and Arts Studies, Hanoi)

Patrick Campos (University of the Philippines, Diliman)

Annuska Derks (University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Hanoi)

Michael Dickhardt (University of Göttingen, Germany)

Dinh Hong Hai (Vietnamese Academy of Social Sciences)

Mattie Do (Independent Filmmaker)

Thuy Do (Vietnam Institute of Culture and Arts Studies, Hanoi)

Lan Duong (University of California, Riverside)

Karin Klenke (University of Göttingen, Germany)

Andrea Lauser (University of Göttingen, Germany)

Nguyen Thi Hien (Vietnam Institute of Culture and Arts Studies, Hanoi)

Nguyen Quang Hung (University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Hanoi)

RELIGIOUS TRANSFORMATIONS IN MODERN SOUTHEAST ASIA


Preliminary Programme

Thursday, October 3

Workshop Introduction
15.00 - 16.00 Opening of the workshop
16.00 - 17-00 Thematic introduction
17.00 - 19.00  - Informal get-together -
19.00 - ... Dinner

 

Friday, October 4

Panel 1: Religious transformation via mass media
8:30 – 9:15 Peter Bräunlein University of Göttingen, Germany
Post-mortem Cinema in Southeast Asia. Reflections on Ghosts and the Afterworld in recent Southeast Asian movies.
9:15 – 10.00    Patrick Campos University of the Philippines Film Institute
Brown-Skinned Virgin in Red Cheongsam:The Ghost as Figure of Justice in Transnational Cinema
10.00 – 10.15 - Coffee Break -
10:15 – 11:00 Lan Duong University of California, Riverside
History and the Transnational: An Anatomy of the Vietnamese Horror Film
11:00 – 12:00 Mattie Do & Katarzyna Ancuta Independent Filmmakers
Filmmaking in Southeast Asia: obstacles, challenges, and lots of fun...
12.00 - 2.00 - Lunch -
   
Panel 2: Religious transformation in rituals
14.00 – 14.45 Annuska Derks University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Hanoi
14.45 – 15.30 Dinh Hong Hai Vietnamese Academy of Social Sciences
Maitreya, Earth God or God Of Wealth? A Study on Neo-Syncretization (and/or Neo-Secularization) in Vietnam after Doi-Moi
15.30 – 16.15 Nguyen Thi Hien Vietnam Institute of Culture and Arts Studies, Hanoi
Dai Banyan Tree Story: A Spiritual Ritual at a Tantra Buddhist Temple in Hanoi
16.15 – 17.00 Nguyen Quang Hung Vietnam National University
Increasing of Religion in Public Places: The Catholic Church versus the Authorities

 

Saturday, October 5

Panel 3: Transformation of religion(s) in public spaces
9.00 – 9:45 Michael Dickhardt Dorisea, University of Goettingen, Germany
Religious Places in the Ancient Quarter of Hanoi: On the Diversity of Religion as a Genuine Part of Modernity
9:45 – 10.30 Karin Klenke Dorisea, University of Goettingen, Germany
From local superstition to a globally recognizable marker of authenticity – transformations of the pre-Christian religion aluk to dolo in Toraja/Sulawesi
10.30 – 11.00 - Coffee Break -
11:00 – 11:45 Andrea Lauser Dorisea, University of Goettingen, Germany
Lên Đồng – Cult – Culture – Spectacle: From Controlled Possession to Staged Performances
11.45 – 14.00 - Lunch -
14.00 – 14:45 Thuy Do Vietnam Institute of Culture and Arts Studies, Hanoi
The Spirit Possession Rituals of the Mother Goddess religion (Hau dong) and the arts in the context of Doi moi in Vietnam: exploring the variations in the interaction between art and ritual
14:45 - 16:00 Bui Quang Thang VICAS Hanoi
Film Screening: *Impromptu of Hau Dong* (2012, 40 min.)
19.00 - ... Len Dong performance

 

RELIGIOUS TRANSFORMATIONS IN MODERN SOUTHEAST ASIA

 

RELIGIOUS TRANSFORMATION...

Panel I: via Mass Media        Panel II: in Rituals        Panel III: in Public Spaces

 

 

Panel I: RELIGIOUS TRANSFORMATION VIA MASS MEDIA

 

Post-mortem Cinema in Southeast Asia. Reflections on Ghosts and the Afterworld in recent Southeast Asian movies.
Peter Bräunlein, Dorisea, University of Göttingen, Germany

A few years ago, the known film historian Thomas Elsaesser introduced a new genre label: post-mortem cinema. Elsaesser argues that many mainstream Hollywood films deal with after-life, survival, parallel lives, and simultaneously with memory, memorization and trauma. Coming to terms with the past and the preservation/reconstruction of history, either collective or personal, are central topics for this genre. Elsaesser points to movies such as THE SIXTH SENSE, AMERICAN BEAUTY, MULLHOLLAND DRIVE, THE OTHERS; MEMENTO and many more. Traumatic experiences seem to be constituent for the protagonist's fragile identity, and the audience faces the existential question: "What if you were already dead?" Without doubt, the label post-mortem cinema fits perfectly to one of the most popular Southeast Asian film genres: the ghost movie. In this or other way the afterlife is interpreted in psychological terms. The "bad death", violence, hate, revenge, culpableness, reconciliation are central topics of such film narratives by which specific psychological notions of the self are unfolded. The imposition of modernity demands new technologies of the self. Consequently this leads to a psychological re-invention of ghosts and spirits and thereby to a re-conceptualization of the afterlife. In my paper I will discuss the applicability of Elsaessers thesis for ghost movies in Southeast Asia and the ghost-movie genre as such.

 

Brown-Skinned Virgin in Red Cheongsam:The Ghost as Figure of Justice in Transnational Cinema
Patrick Campos, University of the Philippines Film Institute

The specter of a Filipina – a brown-skinned virgin in red cheongsam – haunts the transnational screen, as she appears as Rosa, in a Singaporean film. As a ghost film, Kelvin Tong’s The Maid simultaneously reflects and embodies the anxieties of marking itself and the cinema whence it emanates nationally and transnationally. The film ironically highlights the Chinese ghost month, when the gates of hell are left open for hungry ghosts to enter the material world, as a generic-visual marker of its being an “Asian horror” film, in sync with Hollywood global fantasies. At the same time, it zeroes in on the plight of migrant Filipina workers, whose characteristic as suffering virgins, echoing their Roman Catholic background, are able to issue a cross-cultural call for justice in the form of haunting, implicating both the Philippines and Singapore and their specific engagements with current “global” practices.

 

History and the Transnational: An Anatomy of the Vietnamese Horror Film
Lan Duong, University of California, Riverside

When the horror film Mười [Ten] (2007) was released, the film’s gory scenes prompted criticism by the state and promulgated a ratings system in the country for the first time in Vietnamese cinema history. Beyond these institutional frames, it must be argued that the film also indexes an important trend of transnational co-productions that is now a fixture of the Vietnamese film industry. This paper looks at how the film industry in Việt Nam has drastically changed in order to accommodate more commercial films and genres like horror films in the 21st century. It begins with a history of Vietnamese cinema in which a nationalist film industry produced mostly revolutionary films during the two Indochina Wars in Việt Nam. I argue that many of the canonical works of northern Vietnamese cinema do not allude to the supernatural because of the government’s 1945 ban on superstitious practices; the efforts to eradicate superstition reflected the new communist nation that was being developed at the time, particularly in the North. Despite these prohibitions, some films dealing with the occult have been made during and after the end of the American War in 1975. Looking at the politics of filmmaking in both North and South Việt Nam, the presentation will explore pre-1975 commercial ghost films like Stone Tears (1971) as a precursor to post-Đổi Mới supernatural comedies like Kiss of Death (2008), both of which were made in Sài Gòn. The paper traces how the ghostly in Vietnamese films has not only evolved from Viet Nam's history but has also been popularized today, especially in terms of a transnationalized film industry. 

 

Filmmaking in Southeast Asia: obstacles, challenges, and lots of fun ...
A discussion with film-makers Mattie Do (Laos) & Katarzyna Anacuta (Thailand)

 

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Panel II: RELIGIOUS TRANSFORMATION IN RITUALS


Coal, Calendars and the Spiritual World: Everyday Beliefs and Practices in the Briquetting Business
Annuska Derks

There has been a lot of attention in the upsurge of religious practices and spiritual life in Vietnam since the reform process, doi moi, began in 1986. While many studies have focused on the rise of the Mother Goddesses, len dong (mediumship) rituals, ancestor worship, Buddhism, and other religious groups and practices, little attention is paid to how this religious upsurge is reflected in everyday spiritual life. This paper focuses on the everyday beliefs and practices of producers, vendors and consumers of beehive coal briquettes and explores in particular the role of the lunar calendar as it inspires practices of avoidance, paper offerings and working routines. By focusing on an ordinary, mundane thing like the coal briquette, this paper seeks to throw light on the entanglements of the spiritual and the material in contemporary Vietnam.

 

Maitreya, Earth God or God Of Wealth? A Study on Neo-Syncretization (and/or Neo-Secularization) in Vietnam after Doi-Moi
Dinh Hong Hai, Vietnamese Academy of Social Sciences

The appearances of the Maitreya symbols such as Buddhist statues or paintings can be found in different forms in Indian, Chinese and Vietnamese cultures. In each case, the symbol of Maitreya acculturated within indigenous beliefs and ritual practices to form the private and new symbol which was adapted in local religious practice. The new symbols still remain inside Buddhist shrines (as in China and Vietnam) or go beyond border of Buddhism (as in Vietnamese modernity). Where are the Buddhist factors and local belief factors found inside the new symbol of Maitreya? And how does one separate the factors of Indian, Chinese and Vietnamese cultures forming the symbol? To answer the question above, we need to know the role and position of each symbol in the cultures where it remains and its interrelationship with the original culture where it was formed. The symbol of Maitreya – Thần Tài – Ông Địa in Vietnam is a clear proof of the process of religious changes taking place in the world. In fact, Maitreya is one of the most important figures of Buddhism, it appears in two incarnations: Buddha and Boddhisattva. Beside the role of a Boddhisattva which was formed in Indian Original Buddhism (Theravada), Maitreya is the Future Buddha in Mahayana Buddhism. In Vietnam, during contemporary religious changes, Maitreya has found new social functions based on a particular local belief in Vietnamrelated to God of Earth (or Earth God – Ông Địa) and God of Wealth (Thần Tài). The co-appearance of Maitreya, Thần Tài and Ông Đia in various ritual contexts in contemporary Vietnam is an intriguing example of such processes of religious change. This paper traces the religious changes of Maitreya symbol and the social impact on the 3-in-1 symbolic representations of  Maitreya – Thần Tài – Ông Địa in Vietnam and the way they have become one of the most important features of contemporary late-Socialist Vietnam.

 

Dai Banyan Tree Story: A Spiritual Ritual at a Tantra Buddhist Temple in Hanoi
Nguyen Thi Hien, Vietnam Institute of Culture and Arts Studies, Hanoi

Talking about the esoteric practices at tantra Buddhist temples in the northern part of Vietnam, people think of the sutra citation of monks, meditation, tantric practices, Buddhist teaching, or the syncretic rituals of Taoism and folk beliefs such as the ritual for selling a child to a spirit at a temple, cutting off the spiritual love ritual, ritual for warding off back luck, and other rituals for the dead.  The story about a female spirit on the Dai Banyan tree who controls ghosts in this paper is an unusual event at Khuc Thuy tantra Buddhist temple in Hanoi. The story associates with Buddhist rituals and that the temple venerable and other monks exorcise and heal patients who are abducted by ghosts.  My intensive fieldwork research in 2012-2013 at the temple will be the data that I will use to demonstrate how the story about the spirit of Dai banyan tree, the warding off ghosts for healing, and other esoteric practices reflect the beliefs of the Viet people at a tantra Buddhist temple. At the same time, they reveal the emergent phenomenon at the temple and the religious and social ties between members of the lay Buddhist families at Khuc Thuy Buddhist temple in contemporary Vietnam.

 

Increasing of Religion in Public Places: The Catholic Church versus the Authorities
Nguyen Quang Hung, Vietnam National University

In the last two decades we have seen a boom in religious worship in Vietnam. There are new or re-built pagodas, temples and churches throughout the country. Hundreds of festivals are carried out annually which are directly or indirectly connected with the religions and native faiths of the country. Since the 24th Resolution in November, 1990, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) has carried out a relatively open policy towards religious affairs. In many cases the authorities have made compromises with or even co-operate unofficially with religious leaders, especially Buddhist ones. Despite the fact that the relationship between the Vietnamese authorities and some religious organizations has improved, it is not always true in the case of Catholic church. Authorities have placed a number of obstacles in the path of the Christian churches attempting to increase their public profile.

 

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Panel III: TRANSFORMATION OF RELIGION(S) IN PUBLIC SPACES

 

Religious Places in the Ancient Quarter of Hanoi: On the Diversity of Religion as a Genuine Part of Modernity 
Michael Dickhardt, Dorisea, University of Goettingen, Germany

The complex religious landscape of the Ancient Quarter of Hanoi (Khu phố cổ) is part of a complex urban space defined in terms of history, identity formations and administrative practices as well as in the context of discourses of urban development, tourism and cultural heritage. Against this background, the religious places in the Ancient Quarter share a set of common contextual conditions relating them to modernity. However, the articulation of religion and modernity and of religion with modernity is quite different from place to place as the specific history, the social and ritual structures and the personal involvements of actors on different levels entangle the individual places differently with modernity. As a result, modern practices related to contemporary lifeworlds, urban development, cultural heritage or efforts to incorporate religion in contemporary society affect the places in distinct ways creating distinctive places. Thus, the complex religious landscape of the Ancient Quarter reflects the multiplicity of modernity becoming part of religion and of religion becoming part of modernity and allows for a differentiated perspective on the concrete diversity of religion as a genuine part of modernity.  

From local superstition to a globally recognizable marker of authenticity – transformations of the pre-Christian religion aluk to dolo in Toraja/Sulawesi
Karin Klenke, Dorisea, University of Goettingen, Germany

In pre-colonial times, the inhabitants of the highlands of South Sulawesi followed the rules of aluk to dolo or alukta, ‘the way of the ancestors’. The missionaries of the Calvinist Dutch Reformed Mission, who arrived in the highlands in 1913, were largely unsuccessful in their endeavor to convert ‘heathen’ Torajans into Christians. In the early years of Indonesia’s independence in 1945, conversion sped up: In the New Order era of developmentalist modernization, non-monotheist aluk to dolo was seen as backward and a hindrance to economic development. Aluk to dolo gradually lost its appeal as an alternative to Christianity. Today, almost 90% of the highlands’ inhabitants are Christians, while less than 2% are followers of aluk to dolo, which was classified as a version of Hinduism by the Ministry of Religion in 1968. However, aluk to dolo has seen a revival - albeit not as ‘religion’. Its association with the pre-colonial past and thus with ideas of authenticity and uncontaminated Toraja-ness makes it a valuable resource in fields that evolve around ‘culture’ in a narrow sense. In my presentation, I will explore these conflicting valorizations of aluk to dolo in the spheres of tourism, the ongoing World Heritage nomination, and AMA Toraya, the local branch of the National Alliance of Indigenous People of Indonesia (AMAN). Today, the possession of an ‘archaic’ religion is a marker of modernity and a prerequisite for connecting to global discourses of culture and identity. 

Lên Đồng: Cult – Culture – Spectacle: From Controlled Possession to Staged Performances
Andrea Lauser, Dorisea, University of Goettingen, Germany

Vietnamese mediumship can be described as a vital religious and ritual practice which has, throughout its history, proven its resilience and adaptability, despite continued criticism in the name of modernity and progress. In my contribution I trace the dynamics of its transformation from being the forbidden possession ritual which was central to the Four Palace Cult (Đạo Tứ Phử) to its toleration and appreciation as an expression of "authentic" Vietnamese culture and collective national identity and finally into an experimental art spectacle.
With the help of anthropological theories of ritual and performance, I would like to consider this process as a social and discursive space in which the relationship between 'traditionality' and ‘modernity’, and between local cultural orientations and the global political economy, are articulated.
Some of the questions I wish to address are:
- How does one describe the somewhat porous boundaries between sacred, folkloric and artistic performances?
- What are the criteria of a successful performance? Which criteria of “efficacy” and/or “authenticity” are articulated in the respective performances?
- What happens to divine rituals when they are re-enacted (and occasionally politicized) as folkloric art and performed as heritage for presentation to foreigners?
- How and why are certain forms of religious expression targeted for staged performances and commodification?
- What and where are the limits of this hybridization?

The Spirit Possession Rituals of the Mother Goddess religion (Hau dong) and the arts in the context of Doi moi in Vietnam: exploring the variations in the interaction between art and  ritual
Thuy Do – Vietnam Institute of Culture and Arts Studies

Hau dong is a ritual adhered to Mother Goddess Religion, the Vietnamese folk religious belief which views the natural forces as a Mother bringing forth the life to humans. Hau dong rituals existed for a long time in the Vietnamese feudal history, especially from 15th century to 19th century. It includes a series of rituals conducted by spirit priests who are believed to be “chosen by the deities and goddesses” and be able to communicate with the pantheon in the forms of mediumship and chau van singing. Despite of being a traditional religious rituals, in the context of a multi-faceted reform of Doi moi, since the early 1990s until now, Hau dong rituals have been added with new nuances and variations in its interactions with the arts. These include the following practices: (a) adapting and staging hau dong as a show for the repertoire of traditional theatres such as Cheo Theatre and Tuong Theatre, along with a phenomena that many traditional theatre’s artists have engaged in hau dong as a service provider (mostly with the role of chau van musicians and in some special cases as a ritual priest), (b) Using the hau dong’s components as an artistic material and combining it with other art forms, such as contemporary dance and physical theatre, piano musical performing, to become an experimental art work (c) and lately, the transformation of hau dong into a performance art work by some Vietnamese contemporary artists. Arising from this context, the paper reviews the variations of the interactions between the rituals and the arts and explores the related stories surrounding some of these interactions, focusing on the particular circumstances and the changes of the macro cultural -socio-political contexts. It questions the roles and influences of audiences and artists in shaping and creating the arts work, examines the ambiguities between ritual and the artistic experiences. To address these issues, qualitative research methods including documentary analysis and in-depth interviews will be employed.

 

Film Screening: "Impromptu of Hau Dong" by Bui Quang Thang (2012, 40 mins)
Bui Quang Thang, Vietnamese Institute of Culture and Arts Studies, Hanoi

The story of the film started when several artists participated in a body art performance and medium-ritual at Lanh Giang Festival (2009). Here, Le Nguyen Manh, Nguyen Hong Phuong and Le Anh Hoai discovered new material and received inspirations - they were 'feeling high', as the artists say in this film - from the rituals involving mediums. Since then, they developed the idea of having a contemporary art performance - The Impromtu of Hau Dong (Medium Ritual) - and, after that, a 'Cu Medium' performance. This performance has not only brought pleasant feelings for the participating artists, but lead the audience through different emotion (from quietness, sadness to stimulation and excitation). Furthermore, the spirit of Hau Dong has obsessed the artists not only momentarily. Rather, is has now become their constant inspiration. That is the reason Le Nguyen Manh came up with a new series of paintings and had them exhibited in BÓNG in 2010. This film illuminates some changes in the ritual and the religious space of Hau Dong in Vietnam.

After ther film screening there will be a discussion with one of the artists and a Hau Dong medium, who are both invited as guests to the workshop.