Eva Sevenig, M.A.
Eva Sevenig, M.A.
PhD Candidate
Ritual dynamics in the highlands of Southeast Asia

Institut für Ethnologie der Universität Heidelberg
Sandgasse 7
D - 69117 Heidelberg

Email: Sevenig@eth.uni-heidelberg.de

My project as a poster.

Ritual Dynamics in the Southeast Asian Uplands

For the societies of upland Southeast Asia, the relationship with lowland polities represents the condition for the formulation of identity and sociality. The cosmologies and ritual systems of the uplands, often superficially subsumed as „animism“, are not remnants of pre-civilisatory forms of society, but media by which alternatives to the centre-focused religions of the lowlands (particularly state-sponsored Buddhism) can be actively created – forms which are at once flexible, adaptive and communicable. Lowland expansionism does not only threaten upland territories but also proceeds by means of a hegemonial ideology which marks the uplands as uncivilized while denoting the lowland as progressive and civilized. As this lowland self-image is enhanced by western-modern concepts, upland societies are increasingly confronted with the task to complement this type of moral order with an alternative, cosmologically supported form of the reproduction of the social. Several strategies suggest themselves: Seeking association with a religion not dominant in the lowland, like Christiantiy, is one of them; this is the subject of the project by Jörg Thomas Engelbert (Hamburg). Another is the articulation of local religion as a transcultural communication device; this is the subject of the present project. It also aims at overcoming the alleged contradiction between modern and traditional-holist socialities, as transcultural systems of ritual and religion articulate both as a continuum.

This requires research on the transformations of ethnically specific religions in the Southeast Asian uplands, done under the double aspect of the reproduction of socio-cosmic relations with kin, ancestors and spirits, and the reproduction of cultural boundaries. Doctoral research focuses on the Samtao in Laos, a group that adopted Buddhism a few generations ago after their emigration from China.