Religion, Place and Modernity

Spatial Articulations in Southeast Asia and East Asia


Using the potential of place as an approach and of places as ethnographic contexts, the authors in this volume investigate the multiple entanglements of ‘religion’ and ‘modernity’ in contemporary settings. The guiding questions of such an approach are: How are modernity and religion spatially articulated in and through places? How do these articulations help us to understand the ways in which religion becomes socially and culturally significant in modern contexts? And how do they reveal the ways in which modernity unfolds within religion? Thus, places are not only understood as neutral locations or extensions, but as spatial modes to mediate properties, contents and processes of religion and modernity. Based on ethnographic and historical research in Southeast and East Asia and featuring reflections on the concepts of religion and modernity respectively, the authors offer a deeper understanding of the articulation of a religious modernity in these regions and beyond. Contributors are: Nikolas BROY¸ CHAN Yuk Wah, Michael DICKHARDT, Volker GOTTOWIK, Patrice LADWIG, Andrea LAUSER, Jovan MAUD, YEOH Seng-Guan, Clemens SIX, Paul SORRENTINO, Alexander SOUCY, Sing SUWANNAKIJ.

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Michael Dickhardt is a Senior Researcher at the research network “Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia”, Georg-August-University Göttingen. His current research is focused on the entanglement of religion and modernity in religious places of the Ancient Quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam.

Andrea Lauser is Professor of Anthropology in the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Georg-August-University Göttingen. Her doctoral and post-doctoral research has focused on Southeast Asia, with a special focus on power, gender, and generation among the Mangyan of Mindoro, the Philippines, and on Filipino transnational marriage migration. From 2011 to 2015 she was the spokesperson for the research network on the dynamics of religion in Southeast Asia ( She co-edited the recent volume Engaging the Spirit World. Popular Beliefs and Practices in Modern Southeast Asia Oxford, New York (2011).
Preface and Acknowledgements vii
List of Figures and Tables ix
About the Authors xi

1 Religion, Place and Modernity in Southeast and East Asia: Reflections on the Spatial Articulation of Religion with Modernity 1
Michael Dickhardt

Part 1: Spatialization of Concepts and Agendas of Modernization
2 Civilization, Progress, and the ‘Foul Stench of Religion’: The Concepts of ‘Religion’ and ‘Superstition’ in the Politics of Modern East Asia 37
Nikolas Broy
3 Religious Pluralism as a Modern Political Project: The Relevance of Space in Contemporary India, Indonesia, and Singapore 69
Clemens Six
4 Religious Place Making: Civilized Modernity and the Spread of Buddhism among the Cheng, a Mon-Khmer Minority in Southern Laos 95
Patrice Ladwig
5 Constructing Modern Zen Spaces in Vietnam 125
Alexander Soucy

Part 2: Sacralization of Places and Spaces in Contexts of Modern Pluralism and Fragmentations
6 Pilgrimage between Religious Resurgence, Cultural Nationalism and Touristic Heritage in Contemporary Vietnam 149
Andrea Lauser
7 Religious Praxis, Modernity and Non-modernity in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 184
Yeoh Seng-Guan
8 In Search of Holy Water: Hindu Pilgrimage to Gunung Rinjani on Lombok, Indonesia, as a Multi-religious Site 205
Volker Gottowik

Part 3: Giving Space to Religion within Spaces of Modernity
9 New Routes for the Venerable Ancestor: A Growth Triangle, the Border, and an Emergent Sacred Landscape in the Thai-Malay Borderland 247
Jovan Maud
10 Vision and Religious Space under Transformation in the Perception of the Nineteenth-century Siamese Elites 270
Sing Suwannakij
11 The ‘Ghost Room’: Space, Death and Ritual in Vietnam 290
Paul Sorrentino
12 Where to Die in Hong Kong?: Death Management and the Politics of Death Space in Hong Kong 312
Chan Yuk Wah

The book is targeted at all disciplines active in the field of South East Asian Studies and Asian Studies, and in particular anthropology, sociology, religious studies, history and political sciences. Furthermore, the book is of great interest to scholars working in the fields of modernization theory, sociological theory, cultural theory and theory of space and place.