Prof. Dr. Jörg Engelbert
Prof. Dr. Jörg Engelbert
Principal Researcher
Nationality policy and proselytisation in the Tay Nguyen highlands

Asien-Afrika-Institut der Universität Hamburg
Abteilung für Sprachen und Kulturen Südostasiens
Edmund-Siemers-Allee 1, Flügel Ost
D -20146 Hamburg

Tel.: +49 (0)40 / 42838 2377
Fax: +49 (0)40 / 42838 2691

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Nationality policy and proselytisation in the Tây Nguyên highlands

Christian proselytisation in the highlands of Indochina began in the second half of the 19th century. In the region where research was conducted as well in other jungle and highland regions of Southeast Asia there has been a problem since the colonial era of migration of majority populations into regions originally inhabited by minority groups. Furthermore, ethnic minorities have been involved in several struggles over their economic, social and cultural rights - many of such struggles have been in close connection with Christian proselytisation. Religion was and is an instrument and agent of modernity in a process of general cultural modernization that subordinated and subordinates the region and its inhabitants. This sub-project will historically compare two selected examples of specific proselytisation strategies and their relation to state policies. Moreover, this study will sketch out the historical development of conflicts and conflict resolution strategies and demonstrate how these have continued to shape nation-state structures as well as political consciousness and religious practices in highland communities in relation to their Viêt lowland counterparts.

An examination of the historical development of these two typical examples reveals their complexity and diversity; one is able to identify acceptance of or resistance to modern influences, the relationship between religion and nationality policy as well as various reactions to Christianity and similar reactions to the perceived threat to one’s own cultural identity in the colonial and postcolonial eras. One such example dates back to the 1930s when the highland population reacted differently to the perceived threats to their lifestyle and cultural identity that were connected to colonial exploitation and proselytisation. Evidence for this example stems from previously unevaluated sources from French national and religious archives along with reports from contemporary witnesses.

The post-colonial context is largely marked by the interaction between local ethnic communities on the one hand and Vietnamese migrants in the highlands on the other hand who serve as carriers of economic and cultural modernization processes. The latter also function as mediators between the highland groups and the Vietnamese state. International migration processes have added a new dimension, such as refugees from the highlands now living in the United States who have founded religious, cultural and political organizations there. Like this, the proselytisation of highland communities is spread to global and transnational networks.  Research on post-colonial proselytisation will rely primarily on American archival sources and other sources as well as on international and Vietnamese scientific, official, unofficial and internet publications. In addition, interviews with contemporary witnesses as well as with colleagues will be carried out.