Throughout its existence, members of DORISEA constantly debated configurations of religion and modernity in Southeast Asia. In these debates, it quickly became clear that any attempt to form a new ‘master narrative’ or ‘key’ that collectively and comprehensively ‘explained’ the dynamics of religion in Southeast Asia would be a pointless, doomed endeavour. From the different theoretical models and analytical accents (e.g. state, city, village, upland-lowland, world religion-local religion, nature-culture, text, ritual, mass-media, gender, economy, politics, multiple modernities, multiple secularities) the researchers employ, different images of and perspectives on the relationship between religion and modernity emerges. While we initially found the multiplicity of viewpoints and models challenging, we came to increasingly understand these various perspectives as a profound strength of the network’s research. In light of these developments, multi-perspectivism or the ‘kaleidoscopic perspective’ became an increasingly useful and appropriate analytical tool. In carefully and systematically adopting the ‘kaleidoscopic perspective’, we thereby avoided the dangers—and potential allegations—of simply using it as an arbitrary tool when nothing more suitable could be found. The Configurations of Religion project is thus an attempt to use such a multi-perspectivism to inspire fruitful debate.
As such, Configurations of Religion, a debate opened by Boike Rehbein and Guido Sprenger is not to be understood as the 'end product' or as a final or complete summary of the DORISEA's research findings, but rather as a perspective on—or an excerpt from—debates within the network. In ma king this ‘work in process’ available, we invite other members of the academic community to take part. Configurations of Religion is therefore intended to make this on-going process transparent, and to stimulate ideas and discussion.
The sheer volume of research carried out by DORISEA researchers on the dynamics of the religious and modernity in Laos made the logical basis for comparative discussion. In this paper then, Laos serves as a kind of laboratory for new theory on these interactions.
Through the dialogical format employed in this volume, we aim to document and make visible the different disciplinary, theoretical and empirical perspectives, as well as the methodical approaches of the researchers involved. The diversity of perspectives is not only evident in the comments or Rehbein and Sprenger’s answers to these commentaries, but also in the different positions the co-authors layout in the working paper itself. As I stated above, the paper, and the responses to it, do not and are not intended to create a coherent and complete whole, rather these differences in perspective and opinion are here to invite and stimulate further discussion.