Das Kompetenznetz “Dynamiken von Religion in Südostasien” (DORISEA) ist ein durch das Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF) geförderter Forschungsverbund, der am Institut für Ethnologie der Universität Göttingen koordiniert wird. Forschungsgegenstand bilden Untersuchungen der Zusammenhänge von Religion und Moderne in Südostasien.

Zuletzt publiziert

  • Working Paper

    Ghost Mothers: Kinship relationships in Thai spirit cults 

    Johnson, Andrew Alan
    DORISEA: Göttingen, 2015
    This paper examines the process of building kinship relations between Thai spirit devotees and violent spirits. I examine three spirit shrines on the outskirts of Bangkok: a shrine to the ghost of a woman killed in childbirth, a shrine to a cobra spirit that causes accidents along a busy highway, and a household shrine to an aborted fetus. The devotees to which I spoke actively sought out such places known for death in order to “adopt” or “become adopted by” such spirits, and, I argue here, this action allows for a re-negotiation of their position vis-à-vis accident and trauma. I suggest that becoming a spirit’s “child” forms a mutually dependent relationship, and through this relationship allows for the domestication of forces from outside the social.
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  • Working Paper

    Traveling to Yên Tử (North Vietnam). Religious Resurgence, Cultural Nationalism and Touristic Heritage in the Shaping of a Pilgrimage Landscape. 

    Lauser, Andrea
    DORISEA: Göttingen, 2015
    Yên Tử, a well-known “Sacred Mountain” in northeastern Vietnam, is surrounded by primeval forest with plentiful and diverse flora. The attribution of sacred or mystical qualities to Yên Tử has a long tradition, with the mountain providing a symbol of cosmic order in Vietnamese Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. Since Vietnam’s government launched its open-door policy in the late 1980s, the pilgrimage centre has been given official recognition by the Ministry of Culture as a national cultural heritage site. Recently, through the construction of a cable-car system carrying pilgrims – and tourists – to the top, Yên Tử has also become one of the ‘must do’ things for local and global “pilgrim-tourists”, attracting over one million visitors since 2009. Looking at the pilgrimage site as a multidimensional arena, this paper focuses on the negotiation of agendas between wealth, merit-making, ‘touristification’ and political certification of national culture and heritage in contemporary Vietnam (and beyond).
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  • Working Paper

    The Khmer Witch Project: Demonizing the Khmer by Khmerizing a Demon 

    Baumann, Benjamin
    DORISEA: Göttingen, 2015
    This paper outlines an anthropological reading of Thai ghost films and their uncanny protagonists as a dialectic synthesizing ethnographic material with film analysis in an attempt to operationalize the premises of the 'ontological' and 'spectral turns'. The paper is the first systematic study of Phi Krasue—one of Thailand's most iconic uncanny beings—and its cinematic and vernacular ghostly images. It grew out of an attempt to make sense of local Khmer-speaking interlocutors' acceptance and reproduction of an idiosyncratic origin myth that locates the origin of Phi Krasue in Angkorian Khmer culture. Based on Mary Douglas' and Julia Kristeva's theories the paper identifies abjection and its essential ambiguity as the logical principle structuring imaginations of Phi Krasue in vernacular and cinematic contexts. I argue that the reading of a ghost film's social message depends on spectators' embodiment of vernacular ghostlore and thus on an implicit knowledge of the cultural semantics Thailand's phi manifest. However, this paper offers not only a structural explanation for the self-evidence of Phi Krasue’s origin in Angkorian Khmer culture, but also for the Khmer-magic link as the most important socio-cultural stereotype characterizing the category 'Khmer' in Thailand's contemporary popular culture. Finally, the paper identifies 'filthiness' as the social idiom used to explicate abjection as the logical principle structuring processes of 'self-formation' in contemporary Thailand.
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  • Working Paper

    Systematizing ‘Chinese Religion’. The Challenges of ‘Three-Teaching’ Organizations in Contemporary Indonesia 

    Tsuda, Koji
    DORISEA: Göttingen, 2015
    Since the fall of the Soeharto regime in 1998, socio-political conditions for ethnic Chinese in Indonesia have drastically improved, while the governmental supervision of religious institutions has been weakening. This article focuses on the relatively inconspicuous yet significant on-going changes regarding 'Chinese Religion (Agama Tionghoa)’ in Post-Soeharto Indonesia. In the early 20th century, Peranakan Chinese (ethnic Chinese who had become localized both in a cultural sense and in terms of descent) intellectuals in the Dutch East Indies discovered Confucianism and developed 'Three-teaching (Sam Kauw)’ in their effort to seek for 'a spiritual pillar for Chinese'. This move was stimulated by the Chinese nationalist movement, and the Christianization of ethnic Chinese. '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. From the mid-1960s under the Soeharto regime, however, the organizations holding up Tridharma functioned merely as protectors of Chinese temples, and carried out few 'religious activities'. In the Post-Soeharto era, following the changes in the landscape of 'Chinese Religion' caused by, among others, the re-acknowledgement of Confucianism as an officially recognized religion, the Tridharma organizations have started reasserting their raison d’etre by establishing doctrines and standardizing ritual. In this article, I offer an overview of these historical processes, before reviewing the recent substantial attempts of religious systematization made by three Tridharma organizations; one in West Java (Majelis Agama Buddha Tridharma Indonesia), one in East Java (Perhimpunan Tempat Ibadat Tri Dharma se- Indonesia), and the latter’s branch in Central Java. Further, I analyze the sources of religious knowledge drawn on to support these systematizing efforts.
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  • Working Paper

    Ghost Movies, their Makers and their Audiences 

    Lauser, Andrea
    DORISEA: Göttingen, 2015
    In the DORISEA research project Spirits in and of Modernity (Peter J. Bräunlein & Andrea Lauser),communication with ghosts is a central theme. Typically, academics focus on communication with spirits in trance, possession cults, and through spirit-mediums. In a similar vein, few if any ghost movie fans would connect their passion for cinema with religion as such. Rather, ghost movies are more typically associated with popular culture and entertainment than with religion or ritual as such. And yet, ghost movies in Southeast Asia often focus on eminently religious themes. For one, communication with spirits plays a central role in the films. This applies both to the film characters who encounter ghosts, and to the audience which visit dark cinemas and voluntarily expose themselves to an encounter with ghosts. Secondly, these ghost movies often deal directly with culturally rooted beliefs in the afterlife, concepts of good and evil, and the idea of karma. Indeed, the popularity of many ghost movies can only be understood through the way they draw on and reaffirm established, religiously structured, worldviews. As researchers then, we are interested in precisely this interface between popular culture and what is commonly referred to as religion. This approach is especially enlightening as in the cinema of ghosts, religion, entertainment and modernity merge in surprising and remarkable ways. The audience reception of ghost movies is particularly interesting, with audience research posing particular methodological challenges. Kasia Ancuta and Solarsin Ngoenwichit in Thailand, and Mattie Do in Laos are all involved in film production, especially of ghost films. In this interview the producers, directors and scriptwriters each offer unique insights about ghost movie audiences’ expectations and cultural backgrounds.
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  • Working Paper

    Patriarchy and Puritanism in Southeast Asian Modernity 

    Reid, Anthony
    DORISEA: Göttingen, 2014
    In the 1980s I drew attention to the relatively balanced gender pattern of precolonial Southeast Asia, and the economic autonomy of its women, as one of the then most distinctive social characteristics of the region. I believe that this position is now accepted, at least by historians. It does however raise another question I have hitherto ducked ‐ what happened in colonial and high modernity, to allow western feminists to think they could help ‘liberate’ their Southeast Asian sisters? This paper asks two central questions: 1) Was the indigenous Southeast Asian response to colonial modernity ineffective (yielding economic innovation to Chinese and others) because of the very poor fit between Southeast Asian balanced gender patterns, with women largely in charge of business, and the exceptional maleness of colonial modernity. 2) If so, was it simply a case of Southeast Asia being a century behind Europe in adjusting to the only kind of capitalist, industrial, urban modernity we know, which was necessarily male‐led? Or could we imagine different modernities, with Southeast Asian gender patterns being able to challenge and change the male‐dominant model we know from Europe?
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  • Working Paper

    From Colonial Syncretism to Transpacific Diaspora. Re-Orienting Caodaism from Vietnam to California 

    Hoskins, Janet
    DORISEA: Göttingen, 2014
    This paper will explore two key concepts, which seem to relate quite differently to the spatialisation 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 places. Syncretism is often described as the “localization” or “indigenization” of world religions, while diaspora involves the sacralisation of an idea of home through the experience of exile and dispersal. One brings varied elements together in a single place, and describes a process of combination and re-configuration as the followers of different religious traditions interact. The other exports local visions or combinations to distant places, but continues to bind them through emotional and spiritual ties to the place of origin.
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  • Working Paper

    Ascendant Doctrine and Resurgent Magic in Capitalist Southeast Asia. Paradox and Polarisation as 21st Century Cultural Logic 

    Jackson, Peter
    DORISEA: Göttingen, 2014
    In contemporary Southeast Asia 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 localities, while anti-supernatural doctrinal accounts of Buddhism and Islam are also influential in the societies in which these respective religions are 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 a range of studies of post-Cold War religious expression, I present initial hypotheses 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 argue that 20th century social theory fails to account for contemporary forms of religious expression and that contemporary religious diversification in Southeast Asia reflects a broader cultural logic of paradox and polarisation pervading early 21st century global modernity. I consider the diverse impacts of neoliberal capitalism, mass media and modernising state power as concrete forces underpinning religious efflorescence and divergence in both magical and fundamentalist directions. I conclude that in developing frameworks of analysis that adequately account for the multiple directions of religious change visible in this century we need “to be cognizant of the complexity of the world, to be accountable to its paradoxes”(Comaroff & Kim 2011, 176).
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  • Working Paper

    Enchanting frontiers - a sacred forest and symbolic-material complexities in Laos 

    Kleinod, Michael
    DORISEA: Göttingen, 2014
    Frontiers are odd, “wild” places that trouble the well-established, institutionalised classifications of Western scholarship. Far away, geographically as well as socially, from the arrived centres of the world economy, the frontiers of capitalism urge scholars to transcend disciplinary boundaries. This paper is an analysis of the complexity of a sacred forest in Laos, and it is also an exploration of one gap in the academic division of labour that obstructs a comprehensive, sociological understanding of current transformation in mainland Southeast Asia: the division between political economy, or political ecology, and the study of symbolic forms and practice.
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  • Working Paper

    The New Area Studies and Southeast Asian History 

    Houben, Vincent
    DORISEA: Göttingen, 2013
    There has been an ongoing debate on the nature and function of area studies from its inception in the 1950s but especially since the end of the Cold War. Quite a number of articles and collective volumes have appeared reflecting on the question whether, and if so, how area studies, particularly Southeast Asian studies, should be practiced (Reynolds & McVey 1998; Reid 2003; Szanton 2004; Kratoska 2005; Houben & Chou 2006; Sears 2007; Goh Beng-Lan 2011). Especially since the 9/11 event those who heralded the end of history and the uniform adoption of largely similar capitalist lifestyles in a homogenous global village have been silenced and since then what I call new area studies have been on the rise. Luckily for us specialists, Southeast Asia has been far from peripheral in global politics, which explains why Southeast Asian studies have not been neglected within the broader academic project of area studies. Starting in the 1950s, when Southeast Asia became a key theatre of confrontation between capitalism and communism and the status of Indonesia being unclear for some time, Southeast Asian studies could establish itself as one of the liveliest fields of area studies. Since the 1990s, Southeast Asian studies have benefited from the increasing awareness that the future lies in the Asia Pacific region and that more Muslims live in this area than in the Middle East. Besides being driven by considerations of global political economics, Southeast Asian studies have by comparison been highly productive since its unusual cultural richness drew in many anthropologists, linguists as well as many representatives of the humanities and social sciences.
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  • Monografie

    Altered Space for a New Zen in Vietnam 

    Soucy, Alexander
    DORISEA: Göttingen, 2013
    Twentieth century events, with the Buddhist Revival (in response to colonialism), the war (and subsequent dispersal of the Vietnamese overseas), and Communist challenges, have brought about a renewed interest in Zen Buddhism in the twenty-first century. The southern Vietnamese monk, Thích Thanh Từ, has drawn on potent historical signifiers of Trần Nhân Tông and the only Vietnamese Zen lineage (Trúc Lâm) to create a new kind of Zen while simultaneously claiming identity with a nationalistic symbol from the past. In 1997 a local pagoda was taken over by Thích Thanh Từ's organisation and Zen missionaries from southern Vietnam have turned it into a major Zen centre on the outskirts of Hanoi. This paper will explore how they have created and transformed the northern Buddhist space into something entirely new, reflecting more Modernist/Western/Global visions of Buddhism than local Vietnamese Buddhist understandings.
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  • Working Paper

    Social Mobility in Baan Had-Naleng: When the Valuation of Communality Allows for a Demarcation Line in a Multi-ethnic Village in Northwest Laos 

    Sevenig, Eva
    DORISEA: Göttingen, 2015
    In this paper I focus on Baan Hadnaleng, a multi-ethnic village in northwest Laos which consists of two Mon-Khmer speaking groups, namely Khmu and Samtao. The village is unique in offering the possibility to trace processes of transcultural communication which are in other multi-ethnic villages in the region. Khmu, the more numerous and socially privileged group, are associated with Animism, while Samtao, the adapting and more disadvantaged group is associated with the religion of the state. Possibly partly due to this status-confusion Khmu and Samtao have established a communal social order in which they can benefit from impulses from each other and the outside, especially the state. I am thus concerned with three central, interwoven questions. Firstly, how are identities shaped in a multi-ethnic village, and which modes of transcultural communication are used? And what kind of structures do these strategies create? Secondly, what kinds of religious dynamics are to be seen? Thirdly, in which ways do processes like ‘modernization’, ‘globalization’ or ‘mechanization’ come into play and influence the structure of the multi-ethnic village?
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  • Working Paper

    Spectacle Attractions and Buddhism in Southeast Asia 

    McDaniel, Justin
    DORISEA: Göttingen, 2015
    Misemono is a Japanese term meaning “spectacle attraction” or delightful distraction – a wonderful place for purposeless delight. Misemono were historically designed for Buddhist temple and local festivals. They also brought social and religious capital to the designers, and for some, the hope of profits. This paper looks at several examples of modern Buddhist architecture in Laos, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam which could be seen as misemono and offers new ways of understanding architecture, leisure, entertainment, and religion in the region.
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  • Working Paper

    Manuscripts Found in the Abode of the Venerable Abbot Phra Khamchan Virachitto Vat Saen Sukharam, Luang Prabang, Laos 

    Sengsoulin, Bounleuth
    DORISEA: Göttingen, 2014
    For Laos, like for other countries of Buddhist Southeast Asia, manuscripts can be considered as an important primary source for the reconstruction of the intellectual history of this culturally rich region. Manuscripts with texts pertaining to Buddhist teachings have been stored in monastic libraries or in the abodes of eminent abbots for centuries. One of the most influential abbots who took a very personal interest in manuscripts was Venerable Phra Khamchan Virachitto (Sathu Nyai Khamchan) (1920–2007). After his death, a variety of manuscripts were found in his abode (Pāli: kuti). A great number of these manuscripts state that he had written or scribed them himself to commemorate important events in his life. He kept some of these manuscripts for his private use. These manuscripts also reflect the relationship between Lao Buddhism and manuscripts. First of all, a monastery functions as a centre of knowledge, which is recorded in various types of manuscripts. Monks, novices and unordained Buddhist scholars have access to these manuscripts. In various religious ceremonies, monks and novices read the Buddhist texts (Lao: thet – ເທດ), written as manuscripts, to laypeople. Thus, manuscripts are one of the main components of a monastery.
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  • Working Paper

    International Connections of Lao Buddhism as Reflected in Personal Letters Found at Pha Khamchan Virachitta Maha Thela’s Abode (Kuti) in Vat Saen Sukharam, Luang Prabang 

    Boulyaphonh, Khamvone
    DORISEA: Göttingen, 2014
    As a central figure of Lao Buddhism, Pha Khamchan Virachitta Maha Thela (1920–2007), the late abbot of Vat Saen Sukharam monastery and former Chairman of the Lao Buddhist Fellowship Organization of the province of Luang Prabang (LBFO, 1976–2007), had mail correspondence with monks, novices and lay Buddhists both inside and outside of Laos. The personal letters which the late Venerable Abbot collected at his abode over a period of seventy years reveal important and widely neglected, as well as largely unknown aspects of the history and practice of Lao Buddhism. This paper explores the international relations of both Pha Khamchan and of Lao Buddhism and the Lao Diaspora in general, as reflected in international personal letters in Pha Khamchan’s collection that were sent from abroad.
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  • Working Paper

    Phra Khamchan Virachitta Maha Thera and the Preservation of the Lao Cultural Heritage in Luang Prabang 

    Boulyaphonh, Khamvone
    DORISEA: Göttingen, 2014
    Pha Khamchan Virachitta Maha Thela, the late abbot of Vat Saen Sukharam and chairman of the Buddhist Fellowship Organization of the province of Luang Prabang, was one of the most outstanding Lao intellectuals of the 20th century. The Venerable Abbot was a charismatic monk who served as a model for many monks and novices in Luang Prabang, who tried to emulate him. He was highly respected by the people of the old royal capital of Luang Prabang, which has been the spiritual centre of Lao Buddhism since ancient times and the seat of the Supreme Patriarch until 1975. Pha Khamchan Virachitta Maha Thela’s outstanding works include the constructions and reconstructions of Vat Saen Sukharam and many other monasteries in the style of modern Lao Lan Xang architecture. Moreover, the Venerable Abbot led numerous Buddhist ceremonies, rituals and other festivals in accordance with the rules of the Sangha. Finally, he was the decisive figure to set up the Buddhist Archive of Photography in Luang Prabang (2007) and the Museum of Buddhist Art at Vat Saen Sukharam. Based on a large corpus of historic photographs, manuscripts, documents, personal letters, as well as Buddhist art objects which the Venerable Abbot kept at his monastery over a period of more than fifty years, this paper aims at studying monastic life in Luang Prabang by focusing on the intellectual biography of Pha Khamchan Virachitta Maha Thela.
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  • Working Paper

    The Village in the City: cúng xóm (‘hamlet worship’) in Hồ Chí Minh City during Tết, the lunar New Year festival 

    McAllister, Patrick
    DORISEA: Göttingen, 2014
    In recent years an interesting phenomenon can be observed in certain parts of Hồ Chí Minh City, usually about eight or nine days after Tết, the lunar New Year. On street corners and in alleyways in some residential areas at this time, marquees and altar tables are set up for rituals known as lễ cúng xóm, ‘hamlet worship’, but which in this context means worship by neighbourhood groups. These are groups of households which have at their core those with a common origin in the centre of Vietnam, particularly Quảng Nam province. This paper describes these rituals and outlines their nature and significance. Lễ cúng xóm provides a number of insights into cross-regional ties, the dynamics of internal migration in Vietnam, and the process of adaptation to urban life, as well as giving us glimpses into the nature of Tết and a contemporary urban communal religious activity associated with it.
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  • Working Paper

    Religion, Science and Capitalisms 

    Rehbein, Boike
    DORISEA: Göttingen, 2014
    This paper enquires into the relation between capitalism, religion and the philosophy of science. We would tend to suppose that there are only superficial and accidental links between them. A closer analysis reveals, however, that the epistemology of contemporary science is still based on a certain interpretation of Christianity and linked to a particular type of capitalism. Science developed after Galileo and Descartes aims at universal truth but was founded on the notion of the Christian God and associated with a technological perspective on the world, which was most effectively exploited by Western capitalist societies. This gave rise to a particular concept of religion as opposed to the technological perspective, even though the latter was founded on the former. While other types of science and capitalism have existed, all forms of the religious have been subsumed under the concept of religion developed by Western science. This paper argues that it is impossible to understand any other form of the religious than recent Christianity from this perspective.
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  • Working Paper

    The Lao Sangha of Luang Prabang and their Social Roles in the Post-1975 Period 

    Sengsoulin, Bounleuth
    DORISEA: Göttingen, 2014
    The members of the Lao Sangha, monks as well as novices, do not only stay in their monasteries for spiritual purposes, for chanting and meditating many hours a day. In fact, they are also obliged to participate in numerous activities which connect them to the daily lives of the local laypeople on whose constant support they rely. The monasteries function as schools or centres of training and learning. The monks are teachers and instructors of young novices and devout laypeople alike. For this purpose, the members of the Lao Sangha seek for answers to a variety of social and developmental issues in the Buddhist scriptures. This paper seeks to explore how the Buddhist institutions, from the highest levels of the Sangha hierarchy to individual monasteries, have defined their social responsibilities since the founding of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) in December 1975. According to the policy of the leading Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, the multi-ethnic Lao nation has to fulfil the two main tasks of defending the country and developing it. As an inseparable part of Lao society, the Lao Sangha aims to contribute to this task in its own ways. Based on hitherto unknown primary sources recently discovered in the holdings of various monasteries in Luang Prabang, this paper intends to shed new light on the social roles of the Lao Sangha after the founding of the Lao PDR.
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  • Working Paper

    Modernity and Spirit Possession in Java 

    Christensen, Paul
    DORISEA: Göttingen, 2013
    The Javanese horse dance form jathilan has remained popular in the surrounds of the island's city Yogyakarta. The dance persists despite on-going attempts by both the Indonesian state and prominent Muslim leaders to dismiss the dance form as unsuitable for the modern world. This paper introduces jathilan before presenting the state's, religious leaders' and finally performers' own interpretations of it. The different readings and understandings of the dance form reflect and illustrate wider religious, political and social debates in Indonesian society today.
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