DORISEA Mid-term conference 2013


DORISEA mid-term Conference 2013 "Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia"

In global comparison, Southeast Asia stands out as a region marked by a particularly diverse religious landscape. Various “ethnic religions” interact with so-called “world religions”, all of the latter – with the exception of Judaism – being represented in the region. While religion has oftentimes been viewed as an antithesis to modernity, scholarship has shown that religion shapes and is intertwined with modernization processes in crucial ways and that its role in contemporary Southeast Asian societies is intensifying. The mid-term conference “Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia” will explore this link between "religion" and "modernity" by focusing on three dimensions of religious dynamics, namely mediality, politics and mobility. In the spirit of Southeast Asian studies as a holistic, i.e. trans-disciplinary approach, the conference brings together scholars from diverse disciplinary fields who investigate the peculiar dynamics of religion in times of globalization, and the ways in which these dynamics mediate change and continuity in Southeast Asia.

Conference Keynote Lecture
Peter Jackson (ANU): "Modernity, Multiplicity and Magic in Capitalist Southeast Asia: Conjectures on Living with Paradox in the 21st Century"


Panel 1: Spatial Dynamics of Religion between Modulation and Conversion
Keynote:  Janet Hoskins, University of Southern California

The panel aims at exploring the spatial dimension of religious change. A reflection on religious practices in Southeast Asia, where different religions share sacred places, multi-religious rituals are common and religious mobility blurs into other forms of travel, clearly shows that religious change is always entangled with dynamics of movement and place-making. But how are these entanglements to be approached empirically and conceptually? Change can be understood on a conceptual and experiential continuum between modulation – as a reproduction and variation within conventional sets of rules, orientations and meanings – and conversion – as a break with previous social and cosmological orientations. The spatial can be conceived as being constituted through the triality of extension, place and movement. Depending on the ways these formal dimensions of change and space take material shape, the dynamics of religion are articulated in historically specific ways which will be the focus of the panel. Papers may address – without being limited to – the following topics:

The movement between places can be understood as a spatial articulation of dynamics of religion. Pilgrimage, for example, potentially facilitates experiences of connectivity, similarity and alterity of places and religions. How do such experiences of movement and distant places mediate experiences and conceptualizations of religious change unfolding between modulation and conversion?

Even without geographic mobility, conversions often imply a spatial dimension. They may involve a shift of or a reorientation within spatial orders (e.g., the integration of certain groups in new structures of religious centers and peripheries). How do such shifts within spatial orders mediate religious change? How are social, political, economic and cultural dynamics related to religion through encompassing spatial orders?

Places are constituted through practices of inclusion and exclusion which can both accommodate a diversity of religious forms as well as demonstrate the purity of a single religious form. What are the different ways of dealing with diversity in religious places? How are spatial articulations of inclusion and exclusion practically implemented in processes of place-making and how are they related to experiences of modulation or conversion?

Religious places are neither self-contained nor mono-functional in yet another dimension. They may, for example, simultaneously be sites of sacred power, national remembrance, tourism and commerce. How are multiple connectivity and multi-functionality achieved and managed through spatial practices of movement and place-making (e.g., pilgrimage, migration, spatial distribution of objects and activities, establishing of topographies, etc.) in relation to religious change?


Panel 2: Secularization of Religion, Sacralization of Politics? The State of Religion in Southeast Asia
Keynote: Anthony Reid, Australian National University: "Puritanism, Patriarchy and the Modern Southeast Asian State"

Scholars of Southeast Asia have tirelessly emphasized the tight interplay between politics and religion in the region and questioned the very salience of “religion” and “politics” as separate spheres. From the veneration of national heroes in Vietnamese temples to the declaration by former Prime Minister Mahathir that Malaysia was an Islamic state, a neat distinction between the “religious” and the “political” seems hard to sustain. In terms of theory, this observation has generally led to a refutation of the cornerstone of modernization theory, namely secularism, as a Eurocentric line of thought. This panel seeks to go beyond the simple refutation of the secularization thesis and welcomes contributions that are both theoretically informed and empirically grounded in their investigation of the manifold relations between “religion” and “politics” in Southeast Asia – from the much noted politicisation of religion, to the ritual and performative dimensions of the political.

Historical accounts have long emphasized the mutually constitutive ties of religion and politics in the region. Religion in Southeast Asia has indeed never been solely a tradition, a belief system, the combination of belief and ritual or an instrument to explain the world. Since the introduction of the world religions Hinduism, Buddhism (both vehicles), later Islam and Christianity from the neighboring regions, these world religions have been, like their tribal beliefs systems, which existed before and together with them, instruments to create and to legitimize rules and rulers and to organize societies. This is a general feature since the times when the earliest kingdoms and empires were founded along the trade routes between India and China in the first centuries AD.

Postcolonial nation-states have intervened directly in the definition of what “religion” entails, from designating a particular religion as “state religion”, incorporating certain religious idioms into national ideology, to legally regulating the religious sphere. Indonesia’s Pancasila ideology that incorporated various “world religions” under a Judeo-Christian-Muslim notion of “religion” (Ramstedt 2004), the parallel processes of representational re-vitalization and institutional weakening of Buddhism in Laos (Morev 2002), or, more recently, the “nationalisation of Islam” in the context of globalization and neoliberal capitalism in Malaysia (Fischer 2008) are all examples of possible articulations of the national and the religious in contemporary Southeast Asia. While processes of globalization, migration, economic, ecological or demographic changes are reaching today the “last frontiers” of Southeast Asia’s rural, jungle and highland areas, so does the reach of the modern state: intensifying globalization has not brought about the demise of the nation-state. Yet, transnational religious networks - such as the Pentecostal Church - do contest the monopoly of the state over certain arenas, such as education, or reject the national as the main frame of reference and identity marker by referring to a land “in which God, not the (...) state, has dominion” (Glick Schiller & Karagiannis 2006:160).

Rather than to equate “politics” with “the state”, in this panel, we seek to explore the manifold linkages between the “religious” and the “political” in globalized Southeast Asia, from the formal institutions and regulatory mechanisms policing the religious sphere to the political claims of religious networks. Importantly, we are not only interested in the ways in which the secular and the religious are respectively defined in local, national and global contexts, but also how religious and state officials draw the internal boundaries of what “religion” entails, marginalizing, for instance, “(its) less objectified and less rationalized manifestations” labeled as “animism” (Lambek 2012).

Which political strategies do social actors deploy in the struggle for political, or, respectively, religious authority and to which ends? How are such attempts subverted, instrumentalized or resisted? How is religious authority used to gain political authority and how is the latter used to ‘authenticate’ (e.g. national, religious) identities and its ‘others’? How does the regulation of religion by the nation-state – for instance through law and education - relate to the context of economic globalization? How are transnational religious influences ‘mediated’ with national religiosities?


Panel 3: Materializing Religion: on Media, Mediation, Immediacy
Keynote: Justin McDaniel, University of Pennsylvania: "The Designers of Buddhist Ecumenicalism in Souheast Asia and Beyond"

Given that religion "is the practice of making the invisible visible, of concretizing the order of the universe, the nature of human life and its destiny, and the various dimensions and possibilities of human interiority itself" (Robert Orsi 2005: 74), the study of religion necessarily has to scrutinize correlating processes and resources of its materialization. Accordingly, we have to acknowledge that the worlds of religions and the media are not separate or competing spheres of influence, but converge. The study of religion, then, is interrelated with the study of media, mediation and audience perception, of sacred books and images, material objects and the human senses, of religious practices in a public sphere, which is extensively permeated by modern communication technologies. Research on the dynamics of religion in modern Southeast Asia will profit from such a perspective.

Priority is given to four dimensions of the media and mediation of religions.

  • Concept of “medium” beyond mass media. This involves discussing the medium not only as a means of communication between humans but also between humans and spiritual powers (ritual activities and visual representations through the medium photography; performing arts; ghost pictures and films). In its modern genealogy, the term "medium" always carries a double meaning. Therefore, we include and discuss spirit possession and mediumship as distinct forms of materialization - creating immediacy through embodiment Particular attention will be paid to the modalities of processes of mediation.
  • Constitution and circulation of codes of representation: norms and deviation. The communication of “religious” contents via media is subject to regulation, from legal restrictions and censorship to historically and culturally constituted codes of representation (including aesthetic ones). In this context, the question may arise as to what medium / media are considered “apt” to communicate religious contents. Hereby, the authoritative role of the medium "text" has to be taken into serious consideration.
  • Medium, loss and preservation. Media (be it textual, pictorial or material) are used in an effort to document and to preserve, or to remind: this relates to loss, to death (portraits) and cultures of remembrance. Questions surrounding individuality / collectivity emerge here as well as questions of temporal mediation and transmission (the medium as transcending time).
  • Relation between religious authority and medium / media. New media such as radio or the Internet allow persons without formal religious training to get to a position of religious authority. The effects can be considered as dissolving religious authority and/or as fundamentally democratising. On the other hand, the spread of religious teachings increases through the use of such media, and they are, of course, used intensely by religious authorities.



Conference Keynote Speaker

Peter Jackson (Australian National University)


Panel I ("Mobility")

Panel Keynote: Janet Hoskins (University of Southern California)
Patrick McAllister (University of Canterbury)
Keiko Miura (Waseda University)
Rito Baring (De La Salle University)
Chatri Prakitnonthakan (Silpakorn University)
Masao Imamura (National University of Singapore)
Nao-Cosme Rémon (Aix-Marseille University)


Panel II ("State")

Panel Keynote: Anthony Reid (Australian National University)
Andrew Willford (Cornell University)
Ruth Streicher (Free University of Berlin)
Kari Telle (Chr. Michelsen Institute)
Tsuda Koji (The University of Tokyo)
Napakadol Kittisenee (Spirit in Education Movement)
Giovanni Maltese (Heidelberg University)


Panel III ("Mediality")

Panel Keynote: Justin McDaniel (University of Pennsylvania)
Thomas Patton (Cornell University)
Patrick Campos (University of the Philippines Film Institute)
Monika Arnez (Hamburg University)
Gertrud Hüwelmeier (Humboldt University Berlin)
Benjamin Baumann (Humboldt University Berlin)
Sabine Zurschmitten (Bern University)




[Panel I: "Mobility"]     [Panel II: "State"]     [Panel III: "Mediality"]

Downloadable PDF files are available here:
Panel I
Panel II
Panel III
all abstracts in chronological order
all abstracts in alphabetical order


Conference Keynote:

Modernity, Multiplicity and Magic in Capitalist Southeast Asia: Conjectures on Living with Paradox in the 21st Century

Peter A. Jackson (College of Asia and the Pacific Australian National University, Canberra)

In contemporary Southeast Asia, and internationally, the fields of religious practice and adherence present the apparent paradox of a parallel efflorescence of radically opposing trends. Syncretistic, ritual-based magic and spirit mediumship are flourishing in many societies, while anti-supernatural doctrinal accounts of Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism are also influential. Despite claims by some of their respective proponents to adhere to historical tradition, these contrasting trends are both intimately associated with the modern world of commodified, market-based media and scientific technologies. Reflecting on examples from Southeast Asia, I offer some conjectures on how orthopractic ritual and syncretism, on the one hand, and doctrinally orthodox fundamentalism, on the other, both emerge from the same matrix of techno-scientific, capitalist modernity. I begin by pointing to parallels between the rise of orthopractic magic alongside fundamentalist orthodoxy to philosophical debates on the “meaning” of contemporary theories in particle physics and mathematical inquiry. I then consider the roles of capitalism and mass media in the post-Cold War religious efflorescence, and the contribution that cultural studies may make to research on diverse religiosities. I conclude by pondering how Southeast Asia’s deep historical experience of living with ethnic, linguistic, and religious multiplicity may provide insights into how a stable social order may be built upon irreducible cultural complexity and religio-philosophical incommensurability.



Panel I: "Mobility"


Panel Keynote:

Re-Orienting Religious Space in Southeast Asia and North America: From Syncretism to Diaspora

Janet Hoskins (University of Southern California)

This paper will explore two key concepts, which seem to relate quite differently to the spatialization of religion: syncretism, the mixing and synthesizing of different religions to create a sense of unity in one place, and diaspora, the creation of a sense of unity across different place. Syncretism is often described as the “localization” or “indigenization” of world religions, while diaspora involves the sacralization of locality through the experience of exile and dispersal. Postcolonial theorists like Chakrabaty and Chatterjee have drawn attention to the ways in which religion can be part of a nationalist vision, and the spiritual regeneration of a people is linked to its yearnings for independence and self determination. What they do not argue---but I will--- is that this early “spiritual nationalism” also paved the way for the articulation of diasporic religions. A diasporic religion is one built around a sense of absence, the loss of the country----which was also a theme during the colonial period, even though people then were often not geographically separated from their homeland, but suffered a loss of sovereignty. My analysis looks at the development of Asian modernist religious visions, especially Caodaism in Vietnam, but also some examples from India. The development of diasporic religious communities which combine elements of the cosmopolitan with the indigenous is most marked in those countries in which the process of decolonization was protracted and violent, like India, Vietnam and Indonesia, and is less marked in the American examples where diasporas developed in independent nations marked by the earlier history of slavery and forcible displacement.

From Churches to Malls: Reconfiguring Worship Spaces in the Philippines

Rito Baring (De La Salle University)

This paper reviews the reconfigurations of the ‘centers’ of evangelization in modern-day Philippines. The investigation is focused on the shifts in understanding new places of worship in contrast to the traditional notions assigned to places of worship in colonial and post-colonial times. The shifts in understanding have gradually introduced newfound practices in the local churches which bear some pastoral and spiritual implications for the local church in the Philippines today. While the religious dispensation in colonial times placed the Church at the center side by side the seat of civil power representing the King of Spain, the new order sees the places of worship side by side the seats of entertainment. Has the demarcation between commerce and worship been eliminated? This paper shall thresh out the lines through a historical and religio-cultural investigation.

Full paper available for download here !

Reproduction of Mission Frontiers: or Why Protestantism Can Climb the Hills of Southeast Asia

Masao Imamura (National University of Singapore)

It has been said that highland groups in Southeast Asia have maintained a high degree of religious autonomy, blocking the influences of the lowland societies. “Civilization can’t climb hills,” as James Scott has put it. In the past two centuries, however, many upland groups—in both the mainland and maritime regions—have converted to Protestant Christianity. The Kachin people in northern Myanmar (Burma) is one of them; a vast majority of them are Protestants today. Although much attention has been paid to the pioneering foreign (especially American) missions, most of the evangelical campaigns to the Kachin region have been actually conducted by “indigenous” peoples themselves: first Karen and later Kachin. The “Karen home missions,” established in the Irrawaddy Delta, carried out long-term and long-distance mission work across and beyond Myanmar in the 19th century. And then such “home missions” were reproduced elsewhere by other groups including the Kachin, who in the 20th century reached even more remote frontiers such as the Naga and Wa areas. The spatial extension of Protestantism to the uplands has been achieved through the indigenous reproduction of evangelical frontier missions. That is, the “indigenization” has required a series of frontiers to be successively identified. Framing frontier as “space of conversion” or “space-to-be-converted,” I identify and analyze the key developments both in doctrine and practice of Protestant evangelism that have enabled the reproduction of mission frontiers.

Full paper available for download here !

Ritual Imagination of Rural Village Origins Among Migrants in Ho Chi Minh City: the Case of cúng xóm (‘Hamlet Worship’) During the Lunar New Year Festival

Patrick McAllister (University of Canterbury)

In recent years an interesting phenomenon can be observed in certain parts of Ho Chi Minh City,  especially Tan Binh and Tan Phu districts, usually about eight or nine days after Tet, the lunar new year. On street corners and in alleyways in residential areas at this time, marquees and altars are set up for rituals known as cúng xóm, ‘hamlet worship’, but which in this context means worship by neighbourhood groups who are long-term migrants to the city from  the centre of Vietnam,  especially Quang Nam and Da Nang provinces.

This paper describes these rituals and outlines their nature and significance, based on research in Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Phu district and in Da Nang, conducted in 2011-12.  It shows how importing this ritual into a new urban environment is linked to the process of urban adaptation, while simultaneously providing the participants with a sense of community and identity linked to their original homes.  Cúng xóm also has to be understood within the context of the process of religious revival in Vietnam, itself linked to economic modernization since 1986 and the movement of people associated with this.

Full paper available for download here !

Merging Deities, Religious Conversions, and Spatial Movements of Spirits, Objects and People in Angkor, Cambodia

Keiko Miura (Göttingen University)

This paper will discuss the dynamics of several religions in Angkor, Cambodia, by demonstrating how the respective religions have reorganized spaces and recreated the sacred order there. Religions such as the indigenous spirit cult, Hinduism and Buddhism have attempted to overpower or maintain their influences over other religions. In the process guardian spirits appropriated certain Hindu figures in Angkor monuments to demonstrate their powers through spirit mediums’ healing practices or finding solutions for the people coming from near and far. While Hindu temples converted to Buddhist, guardian spirits reestablished their abodes in Buddhist temple spaces. People following new cults often combine anything considered powerful and gather in Angkor to organize religious ceremonies or practices. Even cultural objects worshipped as representing particular spirits might have been lost, newly created concrete replacement are made sacred through people’s recognition of and continued beliefs in the power of the spirits embodied in the objects and particular places. All these dynamic religious expressions and spatial movements of spirits, objects, and people enhance the sacredness of particular places and space of Angkor on the whole.

Full paper available for download here !

Profane Temple: Transforming Sacred Space to Profane Space in Buddhist Temple, Thailand

Chatri Prakitnonthakan (Silpakorn University)

My research focuses on the transformation, in a social and political context, of contemporary Buddhist temple spaces in Thailand. Over the past 100 years, these temples have undergone a transformation from sacred spaces to signifiers of profane space. The article argues that there are three factors in this transformation. Firstly, artistic objects in the temples that were representative of Buddhist cosmological beliefs have become signifiers of Thainess and civilization. Secondly, in the mid-20th century, the Thai government changed its funding policies, forcing the transformation of temples into trade and tourist spaces to ensure their survival. Finally, buildings surrounding the temples that originally served to "simulate" and "mimic" the structure of the spiritual world in traditional society have become a showpiece for the individual creativity and identity of architects and artists. Buddhist temples in Thailand have been fundamentally transformed from sacred spaces to works of art.

Keywords: profane temple, Buddhist temple in Thailand, sacred space, profane space

Full paper available for download here !

Religious Conversions and Flexible Spaces in Riung (Flores, Eastern Indonesia)

Nao-Cosme Rémon (Aix-Marseille University)

The Riung people of Flores (Ngada District) is divided into Moslems and Catholics sharing a common local cultural identity. Peaceful interreligious coexistence between these communities can well be observed in the regular intermarriages that take place across religious boarders. This paper will focus on religious conversions occurring mainly in the context of marriage and will show how local notions related to symbolical spaces accompany shifts in religious identity. Religions in Riung are not treated as mutually exclusive categories but as flexible spaces, both symbolical and inscribed in the landscape. Water used by Moslems for ritual and hygienic purpose becomes in this context a critical component in the elaboration of contrastive identity and spaces. Christians are “people of the dry land” while Moslems are “people of the water”. However in Riung the opposing contrast usually found in this part of Indonesia between inland-Christians and coastal-Moslems is upset at some levels.  Since the introduction of Islam (in the nineteen century) and Christianity (in the twenty century) religious affiliation is adapted and manipulated by the Riung and religious conversions are integrated and institutionalized in the local custom rules (adat). This general modularity and pragmatic flexibility is analyzed in the light of a distinctive historical context in which the adoption of world religions, dynamics of migrations and settlement processes are closely linked.

Full paper available for download here !


Panel II "State"


Panel keynote:

Puritanism, Patriarchy and the modern Southeast Asian State

Anthony Reid (Australian National University)

Modernity did not so much privatize religion and secularize the state as it altered the nature of religious expression. From the vantage point of post-modernity, it appears that the modernity of both 19th and early 20th century Europe, and of Southeast Asia a century later, was accompanied by a particular kind of religious sensibility, valuing public piety not less but more than did the anciens régimes before and our current post-modernity struggling to define itself today. We might characterize its spirit as ascetic and puritan in sexual morality; patriarchal in the home where respectable married women should focus; hard-working, frugal and disciplined in the workplace; committed to the city, to progress, rationality and technology. Southeast Asia’s unusually balanced gender pattern encountered this type of modernity at its height in the late 19th century, but in an exceptionally male and alien form, embodied in male European officials and technocrats, European and Chinese entrepreneurs. Its technocratic achievements seemed irresistibly attractive, but its maleness in the marketplace was completely alien to Southeast Asian societies where women had always handled the buying and selling. Southeast Asians, moreover, had been largely kept out of the Euro-Chinese cities by a colonial system that encouraged male hierarchy, stability and shared poverty in the countryside. Modernity was therefore picked up only selectively, in the first place by western-educated males aspiring to status in the new order, and theories of dual economy and plural society had to be developed to explain the incapacity of (male) Southeast Asians to operate a modern economy. Only when Southeast Asians flooded to the cities after 1950 did they face a comparable scenario to that of the industrializing European societies of the 19th century. It should not surprise us that, for better or worse, the full impact of modernity in religion only came to the region in the later 20th century. Democratization ensured that its states, in turn, would have to react to this religious modernity, expressed by an emergent urban middle class, in our times.

Worshipping Independence in Contemporary Cambodia

Napakadol Kittisenee (Spirit in Education Movement)

David Chandler (1983) has posed the moving question: If Cambodia had long been in the period of, in Marxist terminology, mystification, what did the independence gained from French Protectorate in 1953 really mean to Khmer society? With this regard, the paper aims to investigate the meaning of building and re-building of the more tangible manifestation of independence-independence monuments-as the sacra of independence worshipped in contemporary Cambodia.  

By looking at the monuments as the sacred images of success in societal liberation or salvation, the author further explores in-depth by asking:  What does the ‘independence’ look like iconographically? What is the ‘merit’ of building and re-building those monuments? How do the monuments activate ‘the sense of being independent’? How does contemporary Cambodia accommodate the independence monuments? And most importantly, how did the independence monuments survive from the suppressive Khmer Rouge regime? Ethnographic and historic approaches are employed to decode these politico-religious monuments.

"Chinese Religion" in Modern Indonesia: Focusing on the Trend Toward Systematization in the Post-Soeharto Era

Tsuda Koji (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies)

After the fall of the Soeharto’s regime in 1998, socio-political conditions surrounding ethnic Chinese in Indonesia have drastically improved, and the governmental supervision against religious institutions has been getting weaker.  This article focuses on relatively inconspicuous yet significant on-going change regarding “Chinese Religion (Agama Tionghoa)”.
In the early 20th century, Peranakan Chinese intellectuals discovered Confucianism and “Three-teaching (Sam Kauw)” in their effort to seek for “a spiritual pillar for Chinese”, stimulated by the Chinese nationalist movement on the one hand and Christianization of ethnic Chinese on the other.  “Three-teaching”, or “Tridharma” in Indonesian, was conceptualized as a holistic “Chinese traditional religion” encompassing Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism as well as ancestral worship and folk religious practices in Chinese temples.  Since mid-1960s under the Soeharto’s regime, however, the organizations holding up Tridharma have functioned just as protectors of Chinese temples, and have done few so-called “religious activities”. In this Post-Soeharto era, following the change in the landscape of “Chinese Religion” caused by, among others, the re-acknowledgement of Confucianism as the officially recognized religion, the Tridharma organizations are beginning to reinforce their raison d'etre by establishing doctrines and standardizing rituals.
In this article, after overviewing the above-mentioned historical process since the beginning of the 20th century, the author reviews those recent substantial attempts of religious systematization made by Tridharma organizations, two main ones in West Java (Majelis Agama Buddha Tridharma Indonesia) and East Java (Perhimpunan Tempat Ibadat Tri Dharma se-Indonesia) and the latter’s branch in Central Java (PTITD Komisariat Daerah Jawa Tengah).  Also, this article analyzes their sources of religious knowledge that support these systematizing movements.

Full paper available for download here !

(Re-)Sacralization of Politics or Healing of a Nation? – The P lace of Islam Within Pentecostals' Discourse on Politics and Nationalism in the Philippines

Giovanni Maltese (Heidelberg University)

On Feb 2, 2010 the largest Filipino flag was unfolded as Bishop Eddie VILLANUEVA kicked off his presidential election campaign at Manila's Ground Zero. Throughout the campaign Villanueva, founding president of the Philippines' largest Pentecostal denomination Jesus is Lord Church, was strongly supported by US-evangelical leaders, such as Generals International founder Cindy JACOBS, who has close ties to several conservative US-politicians, as well as by exponents of what has been called 'Asia's longest-running insurgencies': Nur MISUARI, Muslim leader and symbol of the armed secessionist Moro National Liberation Front, Eid KABALU, Spokesman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Zafrullah ALONTO, member of a politically very influential Muslim clan. Against the backdrop of the Philippines' history of colonization and Christianization and in the light of recent studies on global Pentecostalism this constellation appears rather surprising, if not bizarre. Is this just a tactical alliance forged by independent politicians against the so-called Catholic trapos (traditional politicians), in order to improve one's own winnability? Or is there a theological explanation for this coalition? How is it received by ordinary church-goers on the ground? What is the place of Islam and Muslims within Filipino Pentecostals' discourse on Healing of the Philippine Nation and its Politics? These questions will be discussed on the base of more than 120 narrative and semi-structured interviews, participant observation, and of grey literature collected in the Visayas, Mindanao and Manila just before the presidential elections of 2010 and during the midterm elections campaign 2013. The paper argues that a discourse analytical approach, informed by Chantal MOUFFE's and Ernesto LACLAU’s works is best suited to deal with these apparent paradoxa, if the researcher wants to take his informants seriously, without ignoring their contradictory articulations or homogenizing them along preconceived categories, which are external to the discourse they try to engage with.

Full paper available for download here !

Practices of Conversion in Southern Thai Counterinsurgency

Ruth Streicher (Free University of Berlin)

The military-led drug rehabilitation camp ‘Yalannanbaru’ (The New Path) is one of the most successful projects launched as part of a comprehensive military counterinsurgency programme in Thailand’s conflict-ridden Malay-Muslim provinces. This field-research based exploration of the camp is guided by a theoretical reading that approaches counterinsurgency techniques as cultural practices of state formation. It will shed light on the interplay between religion and state in southern Thai counterinsurgency from two angles. On the one hand, it will expose the Buddhist undercurrents of a counterinsurgency practice designed to foster subjective attachments to the Thai nation-state. On the other, it will highlight how Muslim religion is constructed to re-educate young Malay-Muslim men. Based on this analysis, counterinsurgency techniques employed at the camp are revealed as pedagogic practices aimed to convert young Malay-Muslim men into both, modern Muslims and good Thai citizens.

Full paper available for download here !

Regulating Ritual: Spiritual Aspiration and Religious Governance on Lombok

Kari Telle (Chr. Michelsen Institute)

Attempts to regulate religion for political purposes were integral to Indonesia’s New Order regime (1966-98). These policies heightened the importance of ‘religion’ (agama) as an identity marker, making adherence to a state-approved religion a requisite of citizenship. This variety of secularism has been challenged since 1998, when Indonesians began ‘identifying with freedom’ (Day 2007) and initiated a process of democratisation and decentralisation. Seeking to unsettle the religious-secular binary, this paper examines spiritual aspiration and politics in post-New Order Lombok. The paper examines the conflict erupting in 2007, when members of Lombok’s Hindu Balinese minority made plans to build a large public temple. Despite the fact that this temple failed to receive a construction permit, province-level authorities have also found it necessary to restrict ritual activity at the controversial site. While the justification for restricting ritual centred on the (secular) need to maintain ‘public order’, I suggest that these efforts were informed by an understanding that rituals have powerful transformative effects, thereby obliquely acknowledging the reality of the ‘spiritual’. The paper concludes by showing how contemporary modes of religious governance and the preoccupation with ‘public order’, works to the disadvantage of religious minorities.

Full paper available for download here !

Betrayal, Hospitality, and Stories of Justice Among Tamils in Malaysia

Andrew Willford (Cornell University)

Malaysia’s multiethnic ideology is premised upon an ideal of hospitality that simultaneously announces its own impossibility through the marking of legal ethno-nationalist rights and privileges. The performativity of the Law has been increasingly revealed to Malaysian Tamils through a series of recent events that have left them questioning the civility of their country. Specifically, the demolitions of temples and the acquisitions of land by the State, forced conversions, and the dispossession of Tamil plantation workers have precipitated doubts.   I argue that the force of law within the ethno-nationalist state is haunted by a fragmentation of memory and experience among Tamils. This is wrought by a sense of “betrayal” by the State upon an increasingly sacralized landscape. Among Tamil Hindus, notions of divine justice have become fused with possessive and sometimes violent imaginaries. Tamil notions of divine justice are revealed to be a form of compensation, albeit one grounded in a growing victim’s narrative.  Through my interlocutors and collaborators, I have come to critique the Law, as mutually understood through the ethnographic encounter.  At the same time, I have strategically utilized empathy in the face of great hospitality, whilst recoiling, at times, from the implications that accompany calls of justice.  I conclude with a meditation upon the ethics of critique by suggesting the ethnographic betrayal is both painful and necessary.

Full paper available for download here !


Panel III "Mediality":


Panel keynote:

The Designers of Buddhist Ecumenicalism in Southeast Asia and Beyond

Justin Mc Daniel (University of Pennsylvania)

In the spirit of mobility and dynamics that characterizes the research agendas and intellectual vigor of DORISEA, this paper is a speculative attempt to think broadly about modern Buddhists who have or are designing places for Buddhist ecumenical reflection and practice in a variety of locations in Southeast Asia, as well as South and East Asia. I will describe a few sites of Buddhist ecumenicalism, talk briefly about some of the architects and designers of these sites, and hopefully start a conversation about the rise of Buddhist ecumenicalism in an era of intense Buddhist Studies and Area Studies scholarship on local Buddhisms. Instead of contrasting work on local Buddhisms and broad comparative studies, I aim to show how these two approaches can lead to productive collaborative projects.

Between Propagation and Mediation: Negotiating Islamic Norms in "Forum Lingkar Pena"

Monika Arnez (Hamburg University)

The Indonesian reading forum Forum Lingkar Pena (FLP), established in 1997, has become an important producer of Islamic texts, in particular proselytizing (dakwah) literature, which serves to propagate Islamic faith. It has become prominent in a time, when the literary and media landscape changed drastically after the fall of President Suharto, providing more freedom for authors and journalists (Garcia 2004). In the face of this liberalization, in addition to an increasing number of authors raising sexual topics in their literary works, FLP, which has ties with the Islamist party PKS, serves as a counter model, placing emphasis on personal piety, morality, and education. The works of art produced are meant to worship God (Hermawan 2008). The great number of different branches in Indonesia, especially on Java, as well as its numerous activities, such as founding and organizing reading rooms, writing schools, and holding discussion forums, serve the declared aim of the forum, dakwah, which has gained importance in the Muslim world over the last years. FLP, which coordinates its activities through the mass media, addresses teenagers as its main target group, who are meant to become writers upholding and disseminating Islamic norms.

Based on multi-sited fieldwork in several FLP branches this paper examines the relation between FLP elites, its members and the media (mass media and fictional as well as non-fictional books such as guides and manuals). To what extent do FLP elites determine the forum’s Islamic norms in their writings? Which media do they consider suitable to communicate FLP’s message and how do FLP members use these to exert influence on religious contents? What role do the mass media play in coordinating the manifold FLP activities, and in which way do the authors and members deal self-critically with the religious texts produced?

Keywords: Islamic norms, religious authority, mass media, dakwah, Forum Lingkar Pena

Full paper available for download here !

Phi Krasue – How a Postmodern Ghostly Image Re-Presents the Abjection of 'Khmerness' in Thailand's Popular Culture

Benjamin Baumann (Humboldt University Berlin)

Starting from Pattana’s (2011: 202) suggestions that contemporary Thai ghost films contain “powerful ethnographic material”, “magic and ghosts are (re-)invented in modernity” and ghosts therefore represent “key modern social characters and cultural institutions”, I will argue that postmodern ghostly images are inextricably linked to “ethnic” and “religious” images of Thailand’s popular discourse and thus embody implicit knowledge of Thailand’s social structure. I will take Bin Banluerit’s (2002) film “Tamnan Krasue” as a case study and argue on the basis of Kristeva’s theory, that the postmodern ghostly image of Phi Krasue - as depicted (invented) by Banluerit - may be interpreted as re-presenting the continuous abjection of ‘Khmerness’ as part of Thai national identity. Though it may be argued that Kristeva’s (post-)structuralist theory rests on Eurocentric premises, I nevertheless think that her concept of abjection may help us to partly understand postmodern conceptions of ‘Khmerness’ and especially its inextricable association with malevolent magical practices in contemporary Thailand.

Full paper available for download here !

The Face of Jose Rizal as Medium: The Intersection of Nation, Religion, and Documentary Image

Patrick Campos (University of the Philippines Film Institute)

Every December 30, the Philippine government officially commemorates the life and death of Jose Rizal, the national hero, in front of his “rebulto” or monument, at the Rizal Park. After the official celebrations, a host of “millenarians” who make their annual pilgrimage to Manila, also gather around the monument to hold religious services.

Both these “official” and “folk” events center on a constant image of Rizal – his portrait taken by Edgardo Debas in 1890. This “documentary” image has been the basis of critical engagements that deal with the “local” and “foreign” configuration of the “Filipino.” This has also been the most widely disseminated surface image that functions as a cinematic, photographic, and televisual medium of Rizal and his association with Hispanic history and of the lifestyle branding and emblematization of Rizal in popular culture today. This same image is also the basis of the icon of the “Rizalistas,” which is a folk religion that takes off from Roman Catholicism but anchors itself on the idea of a “national paradise”.

The paper is a reflection on this portrait of Rizal as a medium that ironically contains both nationalist and religious impulses and encapsulates the religious currents present in notions of heroism and martyrdom.

Full paper available for download here !

Practices of Mediation in Pentecostal Charismatic Churches - Vietnam and Abroad

Gertrud Hüwelmeier (Humboldt University Berlin)

The explosion of Pentecostal Christianity and spirit mediumship in Vietnam are part of a changing religious landscape. This paper explores the connections between these forms of religious practices by focussing on media and practices of mediation (Meyer& Moors 2006). The concept of religion as a practice of mediation contributes to an understanding of the creation and maintenance of links between believers on the one hand as well as between religious practitioners and the spiritual realm on the other hand. Instead of separating religion and technology into different domains, the focus on practices of mediation illustrates how ideas about the supernatural, the spiritual, or the transcendental are made accessible for believers, are reconfigured via media and are effective in the sense that religious entities and religious messages travel across borders.

In my paper, I argue that in Vietnamese Pentecostal underground churches mediatization, politics and mobility are intrinsically interwoven. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in underground churches in Vietnam and among Pentecostal Vietnamese migrants in Europe this paper focuses on a. the visual representation of healing sessions and trance mediums, b. the communication of sacred contents and the enhancement of the authoritative role of religious experts, c. the role of media and media teams, in particular with regard to the remembrance of flight, refuge, and migration.

Full paper available for download here !

Embodied Constellations of Behavior: Buddhist Weizzā Devotees and Lived Religion in Myanmar

Thomas Patton (Cornell University)

My paper explores the relationships that develop between men and women of Myanmar with sorcerer-saints (Burmese: weizzā) and the consequences of such connections for the everyday lives of these people. My ethnographic and textual research seeks to uncover the beliefs and practices that have developed around saints, whose cults, visible throughout the country, attract large numbers of devotees from all walks of life. The economic, medical, and political changes that have been taking place in Myanmar over the past fifty years are reflected in the relationships Burmese Buddhists form with sorcerer-saints and in the content found in popular Burmese Buddhist magazines and devotional literature. This paper specifically explores how Burmese women understand these saints to be working in their lives for purposes of healing and increasing their social and economic prestige during this prolonged period of instability in the country.

Full paper available for download here !


Wednesday, June 26


Arrival & Registration


16.30 Welcome
16.45 Andrea Lauser
DORISEA Aims & Ambitions                                                   

Peter Jackson
Conference Keynote Lecture
"Modernity, multiplicity and magic in capitalist Southeast Asia: conjectures of living with paradox in the 21st century"


Thursday, June 27


Panel "Spatial dynamics of religion between modulation and conversion"


Chair: Annette Hornbacher

Guido Sprenger

08.45 Janet Hoskins
"Re-orienting religious space in Southeast Asia and North America: From syncretism to diaspora"

Patrick McAllister
"Ritual imagination of rural village origins among migrants in Ho Chi Minh City: the case of cúng xóm ('hamlet worship') during the lunar new year festival"

10.15 Keiko Miura
"Merging deities, religious conversions, and spatial movements of spirits, objects and people in Angkor, Cambodia"
11.00 Coffee

Chair: Michael Dickhardt

Rito Baring
"From churches to malls: reconfiguring worship spaces in the Phillipines"

12.15 Chatri Prakitnonthakan
"Profane temple: transforming sacred space to profane space in Buddhist temples, Thailand"
13.00 Lunch

Chair: Volker Gottowik

Masao Imamura
"Reproduction of missing frontiers: or why Protestantism can climb the hills of Southeast Asia"

14.45 Nao-Cosme Rémon
"Religious conversions and flexible spaces in Riung (Flores, Indonesia)"
15.30 Coffee

Panel "Secularization of religion, sacralization of politics? The state of religion in Southeast Asia"


Chair: Olivia Killias

Vincent Houben

16.15 Anthony Reid
"Puritanism, patriarchy and the modern Southeast Asian state"
17.00 Andrew Willford
"Betrayal, hospitalitry, and stories of justice among Tamils in Malaysia"
17.45 Ruth Streicher
"Practices of conversion in Southern Thai counterinsurgency"


Friday, June 28

  Continuation of Panel "Secularization of religion, sacralization of politics? The state of religion in Southeast Asia"

Chair: Jörg Engelbert

Kari Telle
"Regulating ritual: spiritual aspirations and religious governance on Lombok, Indonesia"

09.45 Tsuda Koji
"'Chinese religion' in modern Indonesia: Focusing the trend toward systematization in the post-Soeharto era"
10.30 Coffee

Chair: Boike Rehbein

Napakadol Kittensenee
"Worshipping independence in contemporary Cambodia"

11.45 Giovanni Maltese
"(Re-)Sacralization of politics? Politics and society in Filipino pentecostalism on Negros (Oriental)"
12.30 Lunch
  Panel "Materializing religion: on media, mediation, immediacy"

Chair: Jovan Maud

Peter J. Braeunlein & Volker Grabowsky

13.45 Justin McDaniel
Panel Keynote
"The designers of Buddhist ecumenicalism in Southeast Asia and beyond"
14.30 Tom Patton
"The wizard king and his daughters: Burmese Buddhist female mediums, healers, and dreamers"
15.15 Patrick Campos
"The face of Jose Rizal as medium: the intersection of nation, religion, and documentary image"
16.00 Coffee

Chair: Paul Christensen

Monika Arnez
"Between propagation and mediation: negotiating Islamic norms in Forum Lingkar Pena"

17.15 Getrud Hüwelmeier
"Practices of mediation in pentecostal charismatic churches: Vietnam and abroad"
18:00 Benjamin Baumann
"Phi Krasue - how a postmodern ghostly image re-presents the abjection of 'Khmerness' in Thailand#s popular culture"
19:00 Conference Dinner & Party


Saturday, June 29

10.00 DORISEA Research Poster Session

Chair: Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin & Karin Klenke

DORISEA Academic Advisory Board Feedback & Final Discussion

13.00 End of Conference



Practical Information

Conference date: June 26-29, 2013

Conference Venue: Paulinerkirche, Papendiek 14, 37073 Goettingen, Germany

Conference Organizers: Research Network "Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia"

The registration fee for active participants is 100€. The conference is open to guests. Until June 15th, 2013, the registration fee for guests is 100 € (students 50 €) and includes beverages and lunch. After June 15th, 2013, the registration fee is 150 € (students 75 €). Please send your registration to Patrick Keilbart at (registration form)

Conference Dinner
The conference dinner will be held on the evening of Friday, June 28th. The dinner, a warm vegetarian/non-vegetarian buffett as well as beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages, is 30€.

When you transfer the money, please indicate in addition to your name "active participation", "guest registration" or "student guest registration" and "conference dinner" (if applicable).

Account name Universitaet Goettingen
Account number 106032618
Bank Nord/LB
Norddeutsche Landesbank
Georgsplatz 1
D-30151 Hannover
Bank Code 250 500 00
IBAN DE28 2505 0000 0106 0326 18
Intended Purpose

Name of Participant
Registration / Student Registration
Conference Dinner - if applicable

Please note that your registration is complete only after the money has been transferred to our bank account.

The nearest Airport is Hannover Airport (60 minutes by subway and train), which is convenient for guests from within Europe. Frankfurt Airport (the airport for visitors from overseas) has excellent train connections to Goettingen. Trains take about 2 hrs. You can check the train connections here:

The municipal Tourist Office offers a variety of accommodation options, which can be booked via their website. In close proximity to the conference venue are Hotel Kasseler Hof, Hotel Central, Eden Hotel, Intercity Hotel and the Gebhards Hotel. Another option is the Göttingen Youth Hostel.

Travel funds
Accomodation and travel funds are only available for participants presenting a paper.