Religious Actors, Care, and Mood in the Time of COVID-19


In: Social Sciences and Missions
Jérémy Jammes Sciences Po Lyon France Lyon

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Chang-Yau Hoon University of Brunei Darussalam Brunei Darussalam Bandar Seri Begawan

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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.

The emergence of pandemics and diseases has from time immemorial been an active ferment in the field of religions and beliefs. These crises invoke an inherent link connecting fear – of being infected, dying or seeing a loved one’s death, and losing one’s job – and belief, in the end of times, in a sign from God, in a way of salvation, and in being healed by invisible forces. Historian Jean Delumeau’s research attests to this as he invites us to examine the role of religion in health crises, and the way religion, or more specifically, religious spaces might sometimes even contribute to the explosive spread of diseases.1 The case of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus – a South Korean messianic and millenarian movement inspired by a particular reading of the Bible – is noteworthy for its role in the countrywide diffusion of the COVID-19 virus.2 Similarly, the Tablighi Jama’at – an international Muslim missionary and re-Islamisation movement – was instrumental in the spread of the infection in India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.3 In Southeast Asia, the circulation of the virus was most evident in the massive four-day gathering of over 16,000 worshippers organised by this movement in a mosque located south of Kuala Lumpur from February 27 to March 1, 2020, which was responsible for the beginning phase of transborder spread of the disease in the region.

It is a truism to state the pivotal role of religious practices in many Asian societies, even in ideologically refractory settings (China and Vietnam for instance). However, the COVID-19 health measures of social distancing and confinement implemented in the different countries have inevitably resulted in the suppression or restriction of public gatherings and participation in religious rituals; including mass, baptism, pilgrimage, Friday or Sunday worship, family celebrations during and after the month of Ramadan, anniversary of deities in Taoist and Buddhist temples and so on. The situation has also disrupted pilgrimages, religious-related tourism4 and the funding of places of worship, such as the collection of the tithe; thereby encouraging the faithful to make other arrangements such as online donations or to hoard money for later substantial donations.5

Some studies have examined how the COVID-19 crisis and its consequences have been interpreted by religious leaders and institutions, giving rise to quite original practices and nodes of meaning, particularly at philosophical and theological levels.6

1 Religions Adapting to the Pandemic: The Role of Digital Technologies

A number of private companies have been more imaginative than others in their responses to this vacuum of ritualised sociability. This is the case of Thai Airways: after having lost some 750 million euros in the first half of 2020 (which raised its debt to 9 billion euros), the company launched a “pilgrimage flight” in November 2020, permitting its clientele of fervent devotees to fly over 99 Thai Buddhist sacred sites in a matter of minutes and, in so doing, to pursue their own religious salvation (by gaining merits) during a period of national lockdown.7 Throughout history, despite some religions or their practitioners who have vehemently been resistant to technology (e.g. the Amish, some Buddhist and Taoist groups), religion has often been successful in embracing new technologies, and the case of printing remains a striking example.8 Depending on the religion, different modalities and media have been experimented: visual media, musical instruments, and digital media (websites and social network platforms).

The years 2020 and 2021 will most certainly mark an accelerated recourse by religious groups to digital media and the virtualisation of ritual and interactive spaces. Regarding this, some religious communities have been more severely impacted than other by the health regulations and the shifting of many aspects of religious life to the virtual world. Folk traditions and the so-called popular religions, particularly Taoist practices, have been adversely affected, since they are no longer in a position to perform or transmit their ritual know-how, an element quintessential to Taoism9 – and, by extension, to all religious groups that rely on esoteric initiation practices as an integral part of their activity. Although Taoist rituals have been performed occasionally online, for example by the Singaporean temple Lorong Koo Chye Sheng Hong, or have been recorded and then posted on Facebook (by the Siang Cho Keong temple in Singapore, for instance),10 the official closure of public spaces had the consequence of paralysing an entire “ecosystem made up of companies that serve the temples, from daily needs to festive needs.”11 This ritualistic ecosystem consists in offerings (incense sticks, votive papers, flower banners, festive food, etc.), community activities (puppets, operas, dragon dance, etc.), intercommunity (and transnational) rituals of Taoist priests, not to mention spirit-mediums. Health measures during the pandemic have de facto impacted all the actors in this theatrical and commodified religious sector.

This case vividly demonstrates the methodological significance of apprehending religious spaces as connected, circulatory and polarised nodes, especially when these spaces are designed in terms of community space (churches, pagodas, temples, mosques, sacred places and pilgrimage sites) or as ritualised spaces (rites of passage, shamanistic and spirit-medium rites, divinatory practices, etc.). In this regard, the epistemological challenge here is to recognize the multiplicity of actors and activities in and around these religious spaces. This approach in terms of nodes and polarisation allows one to visualize a bundle of religious and secular actors and interests, strategies and actions in situations that were themselves undergoing evolution and in crisis in time of pandemic.

Online livestream worship for people considered the most vulnerable – those under 21 and over the age of 60, those with immunodeficient and comorbid conditions and other health risks, as well as pregnant women – was also prescribed by Philippine Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergara in his administrative decree issued on July 6, 2020, as the churches reopened.12 Despite this, a resounding event in the Philippine Catholic community occurred two months later: the death of retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan at the age of 85, on August 26, 2020, due to complications from COVID-19. The former president of the Philippine bishops’ conference, he was a leading figure of social Catholicism for the last two decades.13

As for the Methodist Church in Singapore’s Telok Ayer district, the announcement of the DORSCON Orange (Disease Outbreak Response System Condition)14 in early February 2020 led to a 30% decrease in church attendance, within emerging situations of economic and moral distress.15 The church responded by offering live Sunday worship services on its Facebook page and by launching a YouTube channel with Bible stories for younger people. Independent researcher and filmmaker, Lynn Wong, observed that Telok Ayer worshippers were also instructed to ‘dress up’ at home on the day of service and to observe ritual directives during the service in front of their screen. Consistent with this, videos of Sunday masses were only available until 6 p.m., requiring the congregation to follow the online services real-time. Furthermore, an elaborate online donation processing system, which had pre-existed COVID-19, was made more efficient. At the same time, an opportunity was introduced for those less familiar with the Internet to place their offering in an envelope at every service and to retain it until the services could resume physically. Similar to many other cases observed on the Internet, the so-called ‘virtualisation of worship’ was experienced by the faithful as a virtual practice of gatherings, i.e. a kind of interaction to be considered as if it were ‘real’ (see Chad Bauman’s article in this issue). This virtualisation of worship inevitably raises debate on the effectiveness of these online services at the care and spiritual level.16

Online worship services have multiplied amongst many religious groups, which have attempted to use all the media at their disposal, from social networks (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) to YouTube channels. This phenomenon of “religious televisuality,” to use the words of Louie Jon A. Sánchez,17 has become a reality today. It reminds us that the ancient Greek term τῆλε, tễle (“far”) is the epistemological root of ‘social distancing,’ an oxymoron abundantly used by the media, doctors and politicians around the world in 2020. These tele-communication platforms have proven their ability to address situations where national television coverage is low (such as in the Philippines), and to deliver religious materials (such as healing, demon-expelling or calamity-releasing prayers) as well as medical content to a virtual religious community that is both local and global. Filipino social networks have thus broadcast many mobile blessings, i.e. videos of statues removed temporarily from their altars, mounted on a chariot or a motorcycle, which tour the streets, pass by hospitals and then encounter the adoration of the faithful, who are eager to receive the divine protection of the mobile deities. This is an opportune moment for the organisers of these (Christic, Marian and saints’) cults to feed the devotion of the immediate congregation, and thus promote the pastoral dimension of the community on which they depend. At the same time, these processions define a conception of the sacrosanct territory that would engender the renown of their venerated statue.18

Such practices have an effect – which was not always expected at the beginning as Louie Jon A. Sánchez rightly highlighted – that of transcending the high degree of institutionality and hierarchy that exists in many religious groups, while further privatising the ties between the faithful and the deities (Buddha, God, genii, saints, etc.).19 This process culminates with the Muslim example of the ‘mini-mosques’ described by researcher Faizah Zakaria after she had received the hashtag #minimasjid in Singapore on the first day of Ramadan.20 This hashtag encouraged her to oppose the closure of mosques by setting up at home “a cosy corner, padded with prayer mats against a backdrop of minaret constructed from cardboard, above which Arabic calligraphy hung.” This campaign is notably supported by Islamic educational companies with worldwide outreach, such as the Imam Ghazali Institute, which operates in the United States, the United Kingdom and Malaysia;21 or Sout Illahi, a Singapore-based company with expertise “in Islamic science and contemporary social issues.”22 The latter proposes home-based ritualised Islam alternatives, which comply rigorously with the health rules, to combat the negative image of Islam – that were widely spread on the social networks following the mass gatherings and prayers of the Tabligh in South and Southeast Asia – as a religion contributing to the propagation of the epidemic.

Moreover, the construction of these ‘home mosques’ offers greater visibility to groups of Muslim women who are economically comfortable and active in the private sector. The generalised confinement would thus be conducive to deeper internal transformations within Islam. These illustrative examples of how religious actors have reacted and adapted to the pandemic and health restrictions raise many questions. Will religious practices return unchanged to before the pandemic? These examples of mobile blessings and domestic mosques should not, however, lead us to forget the limits of the virtualisation of exchanges between humans and the divine, and the need for physical community, for tangible materialities in the devotional experience.

2 Contesting COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories

The pandemic has provided innumerable – and not yet fully calculable – sway points for belief throughout societies and among their members, challenging regimes of truth and authority, both religious and political. Indeed, the question of what to believe or not, of complying or not with government public health measures during the pandemic (lock-down, facemask mandates, vaccination, etc.), has provoked profound debates. More or less conspiracy-like in nature, these debates are concerned with issues related to the legitimacy, credibility and, ultimately, the trust or mistrust to be accorded to the public health expertise and measures emanating from the state, from the medical profession and from the official media.23

While such conspiracy theories and behaviours have emanated and excitedly taken over social networks to propagate and organise alternative visions and communities, religious institutions have expressed their position in relation to these contesting movements. According to the few studies on the subject, and to articles in the present volume (especially Andar Nubowo’s article), mainstream religious institutions have often opposed these conspiracy theories and networks due to their capacity to blur citizens’ access to reliable sources of information and to retard a rapid, effective and coordinated government response to the crisis. The recent work of psychologists suggests that “only the most dogmatic and fundamentalistic type of religiousness could lead to conspiracy beliefs, while centrality of religiosity could be unrelated or even negatively related to this type of thinking.”24 This hypothesis is also supported by other studies on religious conservatism towards COVID-19 mitigation and public disease control among Indonesian Muslims25 and South Korean Protestants.26

3 Religious Missions and Social Actions

The journal Social Sciences and Missions understands the concept of “mission” as a type of social action and a modality of religious intervention in a social space. In this sense, the scope of this special issue extends beyond religious activities which are strictly concerned with the “religious conversion” of others, and encompasses a wide range of goal-oriented activities in the domains of social, political, cultural, and economic transformation. In line with this perspective, our special issue, entitled “Religious actors, care, and mood in the time of COVID-19”, examines religious sentiments, attitudes, and social actions in response to the pandemic. Contributions interrogate how religious actors during this period have adapted their rituals and communal practices; developed creative measures of protection, healing and salvation; participated in urgent public health and care activities; renegotiated their relationships with States and societies; and dealt with internal tensions and dissent.

In parallel to the economic sector and civil society, there have been many initiatives from religious and philanthropic circles to respond to social and psychological distress during pandemic. For instance, Wui et al. (2021) report that one of the most significant philanthropic initiatives in Malaysia was carried out in 2020 by Yayasan Sin Chew, a charitable foundation owned by Malaysia’s largest Chinese newspaper, Sin Chew Daily, in a partnership with several religious associations, like Fo Guang Shan Malaysia, Best Wishes Foundation, Buddha’s Light International Association (BLIA), among others. Yayasan Sin Chew’s “donation campaign aimed at assisting medical front-liners and underprivileged communities affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.”27 Another leading humanitarian Buddhist organisation is the Taiwan-based Tzu Chi Foundation, which has made a concerted effort to deliver pandemic relief aid like food and medical supplies to 125 countries and regions in the world since the start of the global outbreak.28 As the “largest nongovernmental organization in the Chinese-speaking world”, the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Merit Society is famous for its disaster relief efforts, as well as its work in health care, education, and environment conservation.29 Scholars attributed Tzu Chi’s quick and efficient emergency response to its clear mission and the charismatic leadership of its founder (the Taiwanese Buddhist nun Cheng Yen, born in 1937), rich experience of disaster relief and recovery strategies, and committed and active volunteers.30

These initiatives have often been on the fringe of State control. Naturally, the place and role of humanitarian aid have become indispensable in responding the pandemic and the absence of the State, even sometimes contributing to the vaccination drive. Besides the leading international organisations and NGO s operating in this sector in Asia, faith-based NGO s have been active during health crises (AIDS, pandemics, etc.). Indeed, many of them have been able to establish a lasting presence in Southeast Asia,31 a region that is conducive to humanitarian action for a series of environmental, economic, social, and political factors. In many cases, faith-based NGO s have locally been complementing the State, activating their powerful channels of proselytisation in urban and rural areas, under the guise of combating social ills, community violence and, more generally, situations of humanitarian crisis and individual vulnerability.32 This mechanism of influence through and around “enclaves of subsidiarity”33 has been filing in the gaps left by States and was pioneered in the 19th century by Catholic organisations (as for the volunteer groups of St. Vincent de Paul) and Protestants (Salvation Army, for instance). Nowadays, it is exercising its educational and social levers on a globalised scale.

The worldwide leading example of humanitarian initiatives initiated by religious groups to capitalise on the legislative channel and humanitarian discourse is the Protestant (evangelical and Pentecostal) mega-NGO World Vision International (WVI). With annual revenue of US$ 2.89 billion, 2.6 million donors, near 38,000 employees and 104,000 volunteers operating in nearly 100 countries in 2019, WVI stands as the largest NGO in the world today in terms of revenue and outreach.34 The organisation was founded in 1950 by the American Baptist theologian Robert Pierce (1914–1978) and its members explicitly inscribe their action within a spirit of crusade and witness of their “experience of the unconditional love of Jesus Christ.”35

Nearly US$ 480 million was spent by WVI in the Asia-Pacific region in 2018 and in 2019.36 WVI has been coordinating programmes in each of the ASEAN countries (with the exception of Brunei, where foreign NGO s are banned and the State is exclusive in all sectors of society). In March 2020, UN launched its “Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19,”37 and as soon as April 6, 2020, WVI set up a so-called “COVID-19 Emergency Response Plan,”38 which highlighted strategic objectives, priority countries and funding needs for the first six months. During the pandemic, WVI has regularly updated its emergency responses,39 while claiming to have launched its largest global emergency response ever in its 70-year history (US$ 350 million).

In the Asia Pacific region alone, WVI claimed to have reached, in February 2021, more than 16 million people, including 6.89 million children. Among many local actions in the region, the faith-based NGO has delivered a cash-based intervention to Lao migrant returnees from the Savannakhet quarantine centres, while “communities in lockdown, including primary schools, were provided with water filters.”40 In Indonesia, in December 2020 and January 2021, WVI supported local governments in South Bengkulu (Sumatra island) “to enact disaster management village regulations to regulate children’s and women’s protection during disasters, including the COVID-19 pandemic.”41

Based on its survey conducted in Southeast and South Asia (Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, and Sri Lanka) to address the vulnerability of children during pandemic, WVI made a series of recommendations for Asian local and national governments as well as for donors to optimise their social assistance schemes, in the short-, medium- to long-term. For short-term examples: to ensure targeted cash and food voucher assistance; to develop emergency employment for day labourers; to support micro, small, and medium enterprises through flexible finance; to facilitate debt financing from banks, microfinance institutions and savings groups at the community level linked with microfinance lenders; to immediately stop evictions of urban residents in informal settlements, etc.42 For medium- to long-term examples: to increase investments in public health and water, sanitation and hygiene; to promote close collaboration between communities, inclusive of faith actors, and health, education, and social welfare services; to reduce risks of child labour/marriage/trafficking/online and physical sexual exploitation; to provide mental health and psychosocial support services for boys and girls, their parents and teachers, and frontline workers; to increase engagement with faith leaders to better “creating and disseminating messages on disease prevention and delivering messages of hope during this pandemic.”43

WVI claims to draw its current actions and strategies on lessons learned from its responses to past outbreaks, such as Zika and Ebola. Subsequently, the NGO announced, in December 2020, its will “to implement vaccination campaigns and ensure communities understand the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination.”44 From January 2021 onwards, for instance, WVI has been piloting the so-called “Channels of Hope” module to support faith leaders in sharing pro-vaccine messages. To support this strategy, WVI conducted its own survey on vaccine hesitancy with the help of its offices in six countries (Bangladesh, Myanmar, India, Kenya, Tanzania, and Democratic Republic of Congo).45 Finally, World Vision International claims to establish with its faith leaders “vital channels of communication and trust to provide reliable information on the pandemic in a context of much misinformation.”46 The case of WVI points to the indispensable role of religious NGO, and by extension, religion, in responding to the humanitarian needs during pandemic, complementary or even surpassing the aid provided by the State. The case study of WVI also reveals perfectly how (and how much) a confessional NGO can intervene into every social, economic and psychological breach that pre-existed the COVID-19 crisis or was caused by it. The NGO has mobilised its members to engage in every aspect of social life that requires care and support, while at the same time pursuing the goal of conversion.

4 Research Questions and Approach

This special issue has invited authors to address in their contributions the following questions: What have been the roles of spiritualities, religious institutions, and religious subjects during the COVID-19 pandemic? What are the relationships between religions, States, and societies in Asia, and how have the dynamics of these relationships changed during the health crisis? How have religious organisations practiced care through various health/charitable/counselling/philanthropic activities during the pandemic? How have such practices been contested among different religions and players? What role do faith-based NGO s play in times of pandemic? What opportunities and challenges have religious actors found regarding the impact of online media and digital technologies at various levels of their social action (including worship, healing, proselytism, and fundraising)?

In the field of anthropology, Clifford Geertz has addressed one of the fundamental problems posed by the COVID-19 crisis, namely the transformation of religiosity, the nascent or revived interest or sensitivity of an individual to the religious question. Interestingly, his approach goes beyond religious or denominational differences and Geertz’s work is applicable to the analysis of institutional religions as well as traditional or more diffused ones in society (like divination). It is worth remembering his stimulating definition of religion:

(1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.47

As a continuation of Geertz’s reflection and method – which insisted on a thick description48 and “the fragmentary and unfinished dimension of the theoretical detours”49 that the researcher has outlined – , we consider a special issue of a journal to be a very adequate format. Each contribution thus constitutes a distinctive and unique input into the multitude of possible methods for addressing such a topic (“religious responses to the COVID-19 crisis”), where one of the challenges is that these responses have been ongoing throughout the editorial process. Rather than seeking to apply ready-made theories to the social fact in progress, emphasis was given to the ethnographic data collected by each author.

In this special issue, five papers in the social sciences and humanities (sociology, social anthropology, religious studies, history, and theology) approach spiritualities and religions during the COVID-19 outbreak in South-, East- and Southeast Asia. Drawing upon original materials (ethnography, photography, digital survey, oral history, critical reflections, etc.), they bring together pioneering scholarship on local and/or transnational responses from religious actors (individuals and institutions) to these unprecedented circumstances. Their access to first-hand material has been combined with the delicate identification of these “moods and motivations” that Geertz called for.

The present authors have been able to describe with admirable diligence and responsiveness – qualities that we would like to praise here – the ongoing transformations that are taking place in the social and symbolic actions of a variety of states (Brunei Darussalam, India, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines) and of religious groups (Catholicism, Pentecostalism, Islam, and the Soka Gakai). The list of authors in this special issue, however, only partially reflects the scholars who responded to our “call for papers” in December 2020. Those contributions that fall outside the present thematic framework of religious care, have fortunately been published elsewhere.50

5 Articles in This Volume

Chad Bauman’s article on “Victory in the Time of COVID: Defying a Pandemic at an Indian Megachurch” investigates the adjustments made by Bangalore’s Full Gospel Assemblies of God (FGAG) during the global COVID-19 pandemic, in relations to its utilization of a victory-oriented and defiant gospel of divine care, protection and health. Using an innovative digital ethnography approach, the author conducted a thorough analysis of the digital media content of the church over a period of 2020–2021, including YouTube videos, WhatsApp messages and posts on social media such as Instagram and Facebook. The researcher has indeed to be attentive to the digital practices employed by believers and religious institutions in the time of COVID-19. These practices put into motion a set of materials and methodological tools related to digital ethnography,51 which opens up promising comparisons with other cases studied in Asia.52

Bauman examines whether a gospel of victory and health can survive the global pandemic. The author demonstrates that such gospel has not only survived but thrived during the pandemic. Such success is attributed to two distinctive characteristics of the “soft” version of the prosperity theology that are manifest in FGAG’s victory gospel, which are inculcated through ritual repetition and performance: its insistence that the faithful are, by God, already victorious, and that miraculous reversals await those who aren’t; and its audaciously defiant attitude in the face of prolonged adversity or suffering.

In “Refocusing body, mind and community interconnections: Soka Gakkai’s ‘mission’ and ‘human revolution’ amidst the biosocial crisis of COVID-19,” Anne Mette Fisker-Nielsen explores the Nichiren Buddhist movement, Soka Gakkai, with around 9–10 million in Japan and its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The article examines how the threats of the coronavirus are deeply biosocial in the disruptions it caused to the body, mind and communities. Through critical reviews of primary source materials, interviews and fieldwork in Tokyo between 2020 and 2021, the article explores the modality that spurred an increase of social engagement and inner spiritual transformation in times of crisis. The discussion on the sensibilities, social practices and cultural norms in Soka Gakkai’s responses to the pandemic shows how Soka Gakkai members turned their anxiety into hope and took action to strengthen connections with others. This is done by renewing their focus on Buddhist study, daily practice of chanting, and increased social action during the global pandemic. The article’s focus on the interconnection between cultural mindsets, actions and social environment contributes to the understanding of the interdependency of the virus within the biosocial and cultural reality.

Andar Nubowo’s article on “COVID-19, Fatwas, and Socio-religious Praxis” discusses the religious and social engagement in coping with the COVID-19 pandemic in Muhammadiyah – Indonesia’s largest modernist Islamic organisation with approximately 30 million members. Examining the religious fatwas and policies to adapt their worship and social activities during the outbreak, Nubowo argues that Muhammadiyah has been challenged to prove its progressive understanding of Islam amidst various conspiracy theories speculated by “conservative elements” within the organisation. He critically discusses the ways in which Muhammadiyah adopts new practices in their rituals, new sites of worship and, concomitantly, battles religious ignorance and hoaxes around the COVID-19 by mobilising its networks and resources to deal with the outbreak and opposition. With a thorough examination of the organisation’s relationship with national and international State actors and non-State actors and drawing on its official statements and socio-religious praxis, the article concludes that Muhammadiyah’s social mission and engagement during the pandemic are based on a progressive and rational belief system.

In “Religious Care and Moral Economy amidst COVID-19: Mimetic Consumption, Divine Vaccine and Disciplinary Trust in Brunei Darussalam,” Jérémy Jammes and Chang-Yau Hoon examine the ways in which the State of Brunei, a small Muslim-majority monarchy in Southeast Asia, has been managing the global health crisis of COVID-19. The article demonstrates that the country’s approach is more than just trust in the leader and leading institutions, but more significantly, trust in shared values and social solidarity in the implementation of the State ideology of Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB or Malay Muslim Monarchy), which is reinforced by the guidelines issued by Ministry of Health and speeches delivered by the Sultan himself. Using data on dozens of narratives collected in Brunei among friends, colleagues, students, a survey conducted at the university, and from the researchers’ social networks through adapted methodology, the article argues that the fear generated by COVID-19 had caused Muslim Bruneians to resort to religious knowledge, such as looking for a possible spiritual explanation, prevention or cure through a therapeutic and mimetic consumption of products associated with religious healing. It also investigates the various perceptions of the role of prayers, recitation of scriptures and almsgiving – dubbed by religious authorities as “Divine Vaccine” – , embodied by the Sultan, as an Islamic way of performing piety against COVID-19.

Finally, Jose Mario C. Francisco’s article on “Becoming a people of greater hospitality: Catholic practices in pandemic-stricken Philippines” explores the diversity and complexity of religious responses on the disease in relations to political, economic and cultural forces. Drawing on the approaches of adapted ethnography and theological ecclesiology, the author examines the Catholic responses to the pandemic in the Philippines where strategies of surveillance, testing, isolation, treatment and vaccination have not been adequately implemented. He demonstrates that the Catholic Church has proactively accepted science-based public health approaches in combatting the virus, including encouraging the use of vaccines. The article discusses extensively how communal worship was conducted using online platforms in the context of social distancing and its implication for Catholic self-understanding and mission. It concludes that the virtual worship services have made religious belonging and identity more accessible, and have widened the social ministry of the church, especially feeding those in need, more inclusive. By welcoming people of diverse geographical, digital and spiritual locations to the banquet and engaged them to serve at table, Philippine Catholics have become a people of greater hospitality as an unintended outcome of the pandemic.


Delumeau (1978).


Grisafi (2021).


Jha (2017).


Proganao (2021), for instance.


For a further global and comparative approach and the access to first-hand data and feed-backs on these issues, the rich research blog “CoronAsur: Religion and COVID-19,” which is hosted by the “Religion and Globalisation Cluster” at the Asia Research Institute (National University of Singapore), aims “documenting new forms of religious responses, ritual innovations, and power dynamics at the time of coronavirus in Singapore and the rest of the world” (


See, for instance, Lohlker (2021); Atlani-Duault, eds. (2022); Pokorny and Mayer (2022).


Perton (2020).


See, for example, Kong (2001); Gomes, Kong and Woods (2020).


Schipper (1982); Chan (2006).




Yue (2020).


Santos (2020).


Catholic News Service (2020).


The Singaporean DORSCON alert level is based on a colour coded framework (Green, Yellow, Orange and Red), depending on the severity and spread of the disease. The Orange code means that the disease is “severe and spread easily from person to person,” but “it is being contained” in Singapore. The impact on population is considered as “moderate disruption” (e.g. quarantine, temperature screening, visitor restrictions at hospitals) See the article “What do the different DORSCON levels mean,” 6 February 2020, During the SARS experience in Singapore, the status was Orange too.


About this church, see Wong (2020).


According to Mark Teeuwen (2021)’s study on the modified Kyoto’s Gion Festival in a time of COVID-19 crisis, the constructed and obsessional search for “authenticity” and the “true meaning” of faith and prayer has certainly altered the continuity of established practices and traditions.


Sánchez (2020).


For example, the worship of Santo Niño de Cebu, which is the most ancient Catholic icon in the country under the custody of the Augustinians, located on the Visayas island region (; or the commemoration of the Black Nazarene – an icon of Christ carrying the cross – in the old business district of Quiapo, Manila ( Practices such as these on social networks will surely multiply to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines in 2021.


Sánchez (2020).


The hashtag #minimosque has been viral too. See Zakaria (2020).




In his paper, Hugo Bottemanne (2021) offers a definition of conspiracy theory and a classification of conspiracy beliefs during the COVID-19 pandemic, supported by contemporary research in cognitive science. According to this study, these conspiracy beliefs are an indication of people’s efforts to “minimise the uncertainty of their environment” and to “control the world.” We are grateful to Andar Nubowo for the several references he shared with us on this topic.


Lowicki et al. (2022), p. 2.


Asfa Widiyanto (2020).


Lee and Oh (2021).


Wui et al. (2021), p. 4.


Tzu Chi Center, June 29, 2021.


Hoon (2015), p. 208.


Tsai, Hung and Wu (2021).


For instance, Islamic Relief Worldwide, Muslim Aid, PaRD (International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development), Buddhist Global Relief, Shanti Volunteer Association, Caritas, Catholic Relief Services, United Society Partners in the Gospel, Religions for Peace, Faith in Water, etc.


Regarding historical and anthropological studies on faith-based NGO s in Southeast Asia, see Daly, Feener and Reid (2012); Feener and Fountain (2018); and Jammes (2020).


Dieckhoff and Portier (2017), pp. 15–16.


World Vision International, Accountability Update – Interim Report Fiscal Year Ending September 2019, 2020 ( Vision International Accountability Update (2019).pdf), p. 2.



“Going Further than We Imagined,” report, 2018 (


United Nations Coordinated Appeal April-December 2020 (



For instance, see the following reports published in May 2020 ( and in March 2021 (


COVID-19 Response: Situation report #21, 22 February 2021 (, p. 2.


Op. cit., p. 5.


World Vision, Unmasking the Impact of COVID-19 on Asia’s Most Vulnerable Children, June 2020, pp. 30–36.


Op. cit., p. 36.


COVID-19 Response: Situation report #21, 22 February 2021, op. cit., p. 2.


Op. cit., p. 1.


World Vision, Unmasking the Impact of COVID-19, op. cit., p. 36.


Geertz (1966), p. 4.


Geertz (1973).


Mary (2010), p. 156; our trans.


See Pokorny and Mayer (2022) and a forthcoming special issue of the Vienna Journal of East Asian Studies edited by J. Jammes and C.Y. Hoon.


Coleman (2010); Hine (2015).


For instance: Hoon and Jammes (forthcoming); Senepin (forthcoming).


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