Prof. Dr. Boike Rehbein
Prof. Dr. Boike Rehbein
Principal Researcher
Socio-cultural differentiation, the politics of language and religion in Laos

Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften der Humboldt Universität zu Berlin
Seminar für Südostasien-Studien
Invalidenstraße 118
D - 10115 Berlin

Tel.: +49 (0)30 / 2093-66032

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Sociocultural Differentiation, Language Politics and Religion in Laos

Max Weber’s sociology has formed the core of interpretations of religion within the framework of modernization. Interpretations have been based on concepts like secularization, privatization, particularization and resurgence. Empirical research shows that these interpretations tend to generalize observations and experiences that are valid only for limited social environments. In Laos, it can be observed that secularization, privatization and resurgence do take place but are restricted to particular social groups under particular historical circumstances.

Against the background of this observation, the project seeks to explore how political elites in Laos try to manipulate the existing social tendencies. The party leadership takes advantage of the complex mosaic of various animisms and religions for identity politics while trying to establish a specific interpretation of Theravada Buddhism as the only legitimate Lao culture. The same divergence appears in the relation of historically evolved sociolects and officially established national language. The party wishes to establish the national language as sole means of communication even though it is rather remote from the extremely heterogeneous linguistic realities.

The project’s research question focuses on the relation between national language and sociolects with regard to the expression of the religious. The methodology applies interviews and recordings of linguistic practice in a first step. The second step consists in an analysis of official documents and speeches. Finally, the influence of the established national language on sociolects and language in the public sphere is analyzed, especially with regard to lexical items. Research is conducted by Michael Kleinod, Boike Rehbein and several Lao professors of social sciences.