In the first part of the twentieth century, some members of the French- or Chinese-educated but indigenous religious, economic, and political elite in southern Vietnam (Cochin-China) intensively engaged in spirit-medium practices. Many of them set up or joined the new Cao Đài religion and its spirit-medium séances. Integrating in their pantheon religious figures from Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and even Catholicism, Cao Đài leaders deliberately challenged the orthodoxies at that time, tactically undermining the local religious elites, but also proposing a universal theological redemption and moral reform through the publication of their new set of spirit medium messages. Very quickly after the creation of Caodaism in 1926, various groups branched off, borrowing and adapting this reformed and orthodox posture within the Cao Đài community itself. While the Cao Đài canon may be well-known to scholars, Cao Đài community journals have yet to be examined in detail, although they often served as incubators for the Cao Đài quest for orthodoxy and a modern path to salvation. Based on archival studies and field research trips to the relevant areas, this paper aims to show how collective and individual actors of these Cao Đài groups have mobilised institutional, rhetorical, ideological, media-based, and other resources to assure and legitimise their authority. Simultaneously, we will see how the Cao Đài religion emerged from very unique kinds of “redemptive societies,” combining both Western and Eastern esotericism to articulate new Asian expressions of orthodoxy, universal values, and cosmopolitanism.
As a Vietnamese autochthonous religion, Cao Ðài was first meant to address Vietnamese people, who received the mission to spread out humanistic and salvationist messages all over the world. Cao Ðài expanded overseas, with few hundreds of them settled in France. Firstly, I will clarify the profile of few French sympathisers in colonial and postcolonial times. Secondly, I will examine ethnographic data collected in the two main Caodai temples of Vitry-sur-Seine and Alfortville from 1996 onwards. This extended fieldwork gave me the possibility to follow the membership logics, the different challenges and obstacles they face in terms of conversion and community life in the French context of religious freedom. The organization (or not) of spirit-medium séances, and the tactics of some Caodai missionaries will reveal some of the tensions between the pastoral and missionary dynamics of Cao Ðài in France.
The Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL)’s main objective is to translate the Bible into all languages by collecting ethnolinguistic data thanks to the methods of participant-observation and lexical investigation. Tracing its origins to the mid-1930s in the United States and Central America, SIL started its missionary, linguistic and development activities in Southeast Asia in the 1950s, especially in the Philippines (1953) and Vietnam (1954). This article analyses the nature and trajectories of SIL members, investigating their missionary activities, their visual and statistical conception of conversion and ethnographic encounter, their conception of Pax Americana during the Vietnam war (1954–75). Both archive- and fieldwork-based investigation reveal what the SIL’s activity meant at the nexus of evangelism, linguistics, ethnography and US foreign policy, challenging some of the very simplified views of the operations of missionaries and religious NGO s in Southeast Asia during the Cold War.
The pandemic has been a turning point in the technologies of power deployed by the state to contain and address the COVID-19 crisis. Whereas planning and discussions on the Industrial Revolution 4.0 in the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam had been ongoing for several years, the pandemic became an unexpected catalyst for the realisation of these digitalisation plans with the launching of a onestop mobile application called BruHealth. This article sheds light on public responses to the COVID-19 crisis, including the state’s approach in containing the virus and a critical examination on the use of the BruHealth. Upon identifying general patterns and discourses from the data collected intermittently in the period between 2019 and 2022, the article aims to be a contribution to the epistemological debates on the place of technologies in “biopolitics” on the digitalisation of personal experiences and on self-reflexivity in the fieldwork process of collecting and analysing data during the COVID-19 crisis.
After Independence in 1984, the Sultanate of Brunei declared Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB) as the official state ideology. Translated as “Malay Islamic Monarchy,” this ideology is primarily interpreted through the Islamic lens and encompasses all sectors of the society. Facing the COVID-19 crisis, the government took quick and Shari’a-driven measures to contain the further import and propagation of the virus. How did faith intertwine with healthcare policy amidst COVID-19? Our ethnographic survey traces the origin of the virus in the country and the major reactions of the Islamic government in time of emergency. This archaeology of COVID-19 in the Sultanate should not ignore both the disciplinary trust in place in Brunei as well as individual reactions and ways to rely on religious materials (such as self-care healing practices, expressions of piety or calamity-releasing prayers) to eradicate the virus or protect people from it.
The introduction to this special issue considers the interdisciplinary study of religious sentiments, religious care and social actions during the COVID-19 outbreak in South-, East- and Southeast Asia. Our approach in terms of nodes and polarisation allows one to visualise a bundle of religious and secular actors and interests, as well as original strategies and actions, in time of pandemic, which sometimes challenge local regimes of truth and authority. In many cases, faith-based NGO s have been complementing the State, activating their powerful channels of mission in urban and rural areas, under the guise of combating COVID-19 crisis. The studies presented here examine several Asian religious actors during this period of COVID-19 crisis; and the ways in which their creative digitalised measures of worship, protection and healing, and their participation in urgent public health and care provisions, have given them the opportunity to renegotiate their relationships with States and societies.