Invocations of Islam in the Pedagogical Spaces of Gilgit, Pakistan
In this paper, I examine the public university as a productive site for interrogating everyday expressions of religiosity in urban contexts. Drawing upon my research in the provincial town of Gilgit in Northern Pakistan, I explore how a recently established government university constitutes a place for the production as well as the contestation of Shia-Sunni sectarianism. While the administrative work of the university on a given morning may entail the enactment of sectarian suspicion and ill-will, a poetry festival organized by the university in the evening might emphasize a pluralistic vision of Islam – an ethic that has historically defined communal interactions in this rural, mountainous region. My paper illuminates how such pedagogical performances of Muslim sectarian identity reflect and reshape both the space of secular education, as well as the cognitive landscape of faith in Gilgit.
Relocating the Center of a Sangha: Minority Buddhists, Local Politics and the Construction of a New Temple in Southwest China
Wat Long Meuang Lue, from the new road approaching the temple, June 2009 -Enlarge-
In November 2007, the Buddhist Association of Sipsongpanna and the local government dedicated a brand new enormous temple outside of Jing Hong, the capital of Sipsongpanna, an autonomous region of the Dai-Lue People, a Tai minority of Yunnan Province. This temple, called the Wat Long Meuang Lue, the general temple of the Lue polity, had been a long-held ambition of the senior monks of the Sangha of Sipsongpanna, and was meant to provide important new infrastructure for the development of the Sangha. The dedication of the temple seemed to mark a key fulfillment of this dream, and also a sign of the robustness of the Sangha leadership. However, conflicts over the construction and control of the temple signal a far more complicated situation. In this paper, I will examine the development of this temple and how its construction reconfigures – or doesn’t – the religious life of the Sangha of Sipsongpanna.
Architecture, Democracy, and the Thai State: Wat Phra Sri Mahathat and Wat Suan Mokkh
Interior of the Chedi at Wat Phra Sri Mahathat, Bang Khen -Enlarge-
This paper compares the history and design of two monastic complexes built after the overthrow of the Siamese absolute monarchy in 2475BE/1932CE. At first glance, the architecture of Wat Phra Sri Mahathat (Bang Khen, 2483BE/1940CE) and Wat Suan Mokkh (Phum Riang, 2475BE/1932CE; Chaiya, 2483BE/1940CE) share similar qualities but on closer examination they differ decidedly in their organization of space. Wat Phra Sri Mahathat (originally conceived as Wat Prachatiptai or Democracy Wat) was a project initiated by the office of Prime Minister Phibul Songkhram and executed under the supervision of Luang Vichit Vathakan of the Department of Fine Arts. The architect of record, Phraphrom Phijit is considered the father of modern Thai architecture and was one of the first to harmonize new building materials like ferro-concrete with forms that were being imbued with a national historical identity. Wat Suan Mokkh was built by the iconoclastic monk, Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (Phra Phuttathat) and a group of friends near his birthplace in Phum Riang. Eight years later, the activities of the complex outgrew its location and the wat moved nearby to its current location in Chaiya.
Aerial view of Wat Phra Sri Mahathat, Bang Khen -Enlarge-
Both Wat Phra Sri Mahathat and Wat Suan Mokkh self-consciously eschewed the architectural idioms of royal elites that marked wats that had been built since the beginning of the Rattanakosin period (2325BE/1782CE). They were among the first monastic complexes to employ ferro-concrete in their construction. However, a study of archival documents related to their design and construction reveals markedly different objectives. Wat Phra Sri Mahathat was invested in coming up with a new national architecture that reflected the primacy of the Thai state and by default inherited much of the architectural language of the royal elites it sought to distance itself from. Wat Suan Mokkh, on the other hand, referenced a broad variety of trans-local and international influences and suggests a more complex trajectory of Thai history that does not revolve around the dynastic state. This study points to architecture as a political tool and opens up a discussion about the changing role of the modern monastic complex.
On Daoism and Religious Networks in a Digital Age
Jean DeBernardi at talk and forum for the Taoist Philosophy -Enlarge-
Singapore's census has repeatedly revealed that those reporting themselves as Daoist have fallen in numbers compared with those professing Buddhism or Christianity. For Singaporeans, Daoism refers not only to the formal ritual practices of Daoist priests but also to ancestor worship, temple festivals, divination practices, and spirit possession, practices that some regard as peasant superstitions ill-fitted to a modern urban setting. Singaporean Daoists, including lay Daoists, priests, and spirit mediums, are aware that they must adapt their practices to the expectations of residents in this modern city-state.
Daoists in Singapore and elsewhere often emphasize the antiquity of their practices, noting that Daoism is China's only indigenous religion. But at the same time, urban Daoists have been quick to adopt cutting edge digital technologies to modernize and promote their religion. The technologies used include discussion groups for the exchange of information among individuals interested in Daoism, personal websites, and social networking and media-sharing websites like Facebook, Multiply, and YouTube. Several groups, including a popular Yahoo group, Taoism-Singapore, advertise events at temples and temple festivals, and also give notice of lectures, exhibits, cultural performances and academic conferences, thereby urging members of a virtual community to become actively engaged in space and time in the pursuit of their shared interests. Some religious practitioners and devotees further use the Internet to showcase evanescent ritual performances, thereby opening a window into the religion for non-practitioners. This paper will explore the recent history and implications of these developments in Singapore.
Cosmopolitanism, Conversion and Place-Making among Members of the Singapore Soka Association
As one of Singapore’s fastest growing religious movements, the lay Buddhist Singapore Soka Association has aggressively engaged in both grand and quotidian urban place-making projects. Most visibly, the group boasts seven corporate-looking “culture centers” and a kindergarten, and is aiming to build a multistory headquarters modeled after Soka Gakkai Malaysia’s towering Wisma Kebudayaan center in Kuala Lumpur. While these buildings offer members a place to meet, chant the Lotus Sutra, and purchase books, members do not see these all-purpose centers as sites of their most fundamental religious practices. These practices take place in private homes and include the twice-daily chanting of the gongyo in front of one’s home altar and attendance at study and discussion meetings in members’ homes around the city. In the semi-public space of the larger centers, members instead engage in “practice for others,” an important aspect of which is members’ compassionate outreach to non-members in the form of proselytizing. These centers serve as liminal spaces between the private space of homes and the public space of a city populated by a diversity of non-members who are also potential members or “new friends”. Members describe these concentric arenas of religious practice as platforms for cultivating the cosmopolitan values of Soka Gakkai’s “global citizens,” values they see as not strictly Singaporean but universal. This paper explores the specific ways in which members have created an alternate map of Singapore through these place-making projects. This re-mapping has involved both the creation of what Certeau describes as mundane intertwined pedestrian pathways through the city and the cultivation of certain cosmopolitan dispositions towards strangers that allow members to get along with others while still holding onto their deep religious beliefs. I explore this re-mapping and argue that members’ ethical and rhetorical cultivation of cosmopolitan values takes on particular urgency in a vibrant global city whose citizens have no trouble imagining themselves as part of multiple transnational and cosmopolitan networks.
Losing the Neighborhood Temple (or finding the temple and losing the neighborhood): Transformations of Beijing Temple Space since the Communist Revolution
In this presentation, I explore changes in urban Chinese religiosity by looking at transformations of space at a single temple site in Beijing. In pre-communist times, the Temple of Universal Rescue (Guangji Si) functioned as both a nationally prominent Buddhist temple and a center of local community activity. Following the rise to power of China’s communist party, however, the temple was closed as a site of popular worship. While its prominent status spared the temple from destruction during the most oppressive years of the Maoist regime, it did not re-open to the public again until the early 1990s. Since that time, the temple has become a lively civic space frequented by a growing number of lay Buddhist converts. However, it no longer functions as a center for community activity for the neighborhood surrounding it; because the number of temples in the surrounding area remains scant compared to imperial times, its worshippers come from all over the Beijing area. In the last five years, many of the old neighborhoods whose residents once frequented the temple have been demolished to make room for a new subway station – a project that erodes what remains of the temple’s traditional role in the surrounding neighborhood while making it more accessible to its present population of geographically-dispersed worshippers. At the same time, the population of temple-goers has changed from syncretic worshippers of both local and national gods within a circuit of neighborhood temples in the pre-communist period to a more self-consciously sectarian community of lay Buddhists. While the orientation of pre-communist worshippers was located specifically in local place, temple worshippers in the post-Mao period are attracted to the non-locative vision of Buddhism and, concomitantly, see little significance to particular temples as place-defined spaces.
Gold, Ann Grodzins
Carving Sacred Space in Jahazpur: the Butchers' Temple and Other Dislocations
Glittery interior of the Khatik Samaj Satya Narayan Mandir. -Enlarge-
Jahazpur is a small market town or qasba in Bhilwara District in the North Indian state of Rajasthan. Designated a Class IV municipality, it is also a tehsil (sub-district) headquarters. Jahazpur is an old settlement, its roots deep in history and legend. By reputation both conservative and diverse, its spaces are shared by members of different religions and all levels of the social hierarchy. While in the densely settled town center people reside in neighborhoods clearly segregated by hereditary birth group, new and generally more spacious colonies expanding on Jahazpur's outskirts are radically mixed. During preliminary visits to Jahazpur in the summers of 06, 07 and 08, I tried to gather a sense of its geography -- particularly neighborhoods, markets and most of all places of religious significance, of which there are multitudes. Based on these preliminary excursions, observations and conversations, my paper focuses on some critical intersections of collective identity with place and meaning through examining a few origin narratives for temples and shrines within the town. I first discuss the remarkably successful struggle by Jahazpur's large community of butchers (khatik) to establish a splendid and centrally located Satya Narayan temple, with its aura of vegetarian Vaishnavite divinity. Moving from living memory back into history and legend I also look at the installation of the Hindu deity of auspicious beginnings, Lord Ganesh, on the very seat where a Mughal emperor (some said Jahangir, some said Aurangzeb) once held court. Finally I consider ancient serpent-deity shrines bearing concrete testimony to a widely known foundation myth for the town itself: an epic snake sacrifice. All three origin stories involve dislocations of power and meaning transformative of both place and identity. I speculate that such ongoing oral traditions of dislocation -- prized and retold by members of Jahazpur's diverse population -- contribute to the town's enduring through many turbulent centuries as a pluralistic community and bustling center for regional trade.
Vivekananda's Local Legacies: Conflict, Cooperation, and Individual Destinies in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh.
Hanuman parikrama (children circling image of Hanuman, Vivekananda Needam, Gwalior)-enlarge-
Three institutions invoking the legacy of the turn-of-the-twentieth century Hindu reformer Swami Vivekananda coexist in greater Gwalior, an urban area of over one million residents in Central India. All three have ties to broader India-wide organizations: Gwalior's Ramakrishna Ashram to the Belur-based Ramakrishna math, which was started by Vivekananda; the Vivekananda Kendra, a local branch of a national organization of the same name based in Kanyakumari; and the Vivekananda Needam, once the local branch of the Kendra but now embarked on an independent existence. All three centers have their own charismatic leaders.
A twenty-seven minute video presentation will focus on the Vivekananda Needam, an ecologically oriented settlement on the outskirts of the city that is deeply invested in itself as a special place. As such, it came to a parting of the ways with its parent organization, the Vivekananda Kendra, a national "placeless" organization that focuses on propagating neo-Hindu teachings; the Kendra has reestablished itself in Gwalior in old urban temple it recently acquired. Both the needam and the kendra differ from the Ramakrishna Ashram, which has a developed urban campus with multiple schools and service organizations. The video explores the roles the differently situated institutions play in the city, their links to the broader national networks of which they are a part, and the roles of charismatic individuals in building institutional places and contesting them.
No Place, New Places: Death and its Rituals in Urban Asia
Lily Kong in Shanghai on fieldwork -Enlarge-
In many Asian cities, particularly those that confront increasing land scarcity, the conversion from burial to cremation has been encouraged by state agencies in the last several decades. From Hong Kong to Seoul to Singapore, planning agencies have sought to reduce the use of space for the dead, in order to release land for the use of the living. The more secular guiding principles regarding efficient land use in these cities had originally come up against the symbolic values invested in burial spaces, resulting in conflicts between different value systems. In more recent years, however, the shift to cremation and columbaria has been marked, and even voluntary, for example, in Hong Kong, where private providers offer creative and expressive options in new columbaria. In still more recent years, even columbaria have become overcrowded, and sea burials (the scattering of ashes in the seas) are being encouraged, as are woodland burials (the scattering of ashes in woodlands or around trees) in places like Hong Kong and Taipei. Indeed, the latter has been promoted as the “new eco-friendly burial method.” As burial methods change, so too do commemorative rituals, and the annual Qing Ming Festival (tomb sweeping) has seen the rise of new online and mobile phone rituals in China. This paper traces the ways in which physical spaces for the dead in several Asian cities have diminished and changed over time, the growth of virtual space for them, the accompanying discourses that influence these dynamics, and the new rituals that emerge concomitantly with the contraction of land space.
Notice Boards (Vartaphalak) and the City: Intersection of Religion and Space in Public Sphere in Urban India
Newspaper ‘library’ and notice board in Sadashiv Peth, Pune -Enlarge-
Recent perspectives on religious practice in South Asia critique the assumed dichotomy between religion and modernity, which characterizes earlier research on urban forms of religiosity in South Asia. Following on these lines, I aim to show how religion constitutes a site through which participation in the public sphere is routed in important ways for its adherents, through an ethnographic analysis of the practice of writing notice boards (vartaphalak) in public spaces of Pune city, in Western India. The location of notice boards on the intersection of the spatial, civic, and religious axes of the city, however, is necessarily refracted through class and gender differentials, leading us to ask questions about access to participation in this public sphere.
Floating Zendos, Global Mandalas, and Cosmic Gardens: The Erasure and Reconstruction of Place in Urban American Zen
While on solitary retreat in 1938, a Japanese monk named Soen Nakagawa sent a letter from Manchuria to his fellow monk and elder friend Nyogen Senzaki in the United States. In response to Senzaki’s creative production of new “floating zendos” in the ever-evolving American urban landscape, Nakagawa wrote to Senzaki of a yearly ritual, which took place on Mount Dai Bosatsu in Japan. On “Dai Bosatsu Mandala Day” the individual and communal chanting of a dharani from the Lotus Sutra, “namu dai bosa,” was believed to be helpful in creating and maintaining what Nakagawa calls a “Spiritual Interrelationship Garden” – a place capable of transcending the great distances in space and time felt between the monks and their sanghas. These topographic perspectives are unique, according to Nakagawa and Senzaki, because they dwell in no specifically locatable urban or global places – rather, “the entire cosmos is their garden.” Nakagawa also hand-painted for Senzaki an enormous and beautiful mandala, some thirty-four feet long, adorned with the esoteric symbols for Vairocana Buddha, the names of the cities Shinkyo and Los Angeles, and a diagram – a new mental and social space – suggestive of Nakagawa and Senzaki’s “spiritual interrelationship.” I inquire, along with cultural geographers Doreen Massey and Pat Jess, about the efficacy of such a Buddhist “place in the world” under the pressures of globalization, accommodation, and adaptation. This paper will also respond to philosopher Edward S. Casey and his concerns about the “fate of place” under such global transformation and rapid religious change, especially when juxtaposed to the erasure and reconstruction of place within Zen.
“Four options to create your own heaven on earth”: The Cultural and Spatial Registers of Indian Urban Religiosity
The Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Bangalore -Enlarge-
The title of my paper stems from an advertisement for home finance from the Industrial Development Bank of India at a property show in Bangalore in September 2008, but it is equally appropriate for my exploration of several ethnographic and analytical registers for understanding contemporary urban religiosity in India. Grounded spatially in my long-term research in Bangalore, India’s “high-tech city” of nearly seven million people, with forays towards other urban examples and exemplars, my paper is sensitive to what I call the “sacrality of urban sprawl,” i.e. the fact that cities and their expanding boundaries (whether suburban, exurban, or peri-urban) are important arenas for the recruitment of devotees, the construction of shrines to house the religious, new spiritual maps, and the performance of citizenship. I link the sacrality of urban sprawl, which is connected to the creation of new urban routes (such as highways and beltways) and suburbanization processes, with the role of the senses/body in mediating and constituting the religious in urban space. Using several cases (for e.g., “Pyramid Valley” south of Bangalore or the Sai Baba tradition) that are also sensitive to the mobility of religious images, media and discourses, I seek in this paper to expand our tools and languages for understanding Indian urban religiosity.
Between State and Church: The Role of Church Leaders in Expanding Protestant Space in China
The population of Chinese Protestants continues to expand rapidly, generating pressures for more worship spaces. Yet at the same time the Chinese regime seeks to limit the growing influence of religion by restricting the development of new religious sites. How do Protestant leaders overcome state pressures to expand worship sites in contemporary China? Scholars of social movement activism suggest that effective leaders draw on “leadership capital” to mobilize followers to challenge authorities. Applying the concept to China, I examine the ways in which church leaders use leadership capital to expand religious spaces by drawing worshipers into potential activism. Leaders skillfully threaten state resistance without confronting state power head-on.
Waghorne, Joanne Punzo
Space without Place: Finding a Forest in the Midst of a City.
Singapore- ISHA Room -Enlarge-
Sitting with their eyes closed, followers of an increasingly popular guru in Singapore heard the seemingly disembodied voice of their master leading them in a visualization exercise. The guru asked that they imagine themselves walking in a beautiful garden and then suddenly lifted up into the sky. Getting higher and higher they were to see themselves floating over the globe and then landing in a dense unknown forest, there in a hermit's hut they were to imagine finding their own true radiant Teacher. Finally after tarrying there, they would re-ascend and finally return to the garden. The entire exercise took place in a large all-purpose community hall, the floor covered in a simple Durry carpet and a photo of the guru placed on a chair draped with white cloth. Although the carpet and the reverently placed photo of the guru marked the place as "Indian," nothing but the presence of orchards hinted that we all had assembled that Saturday in the thriving cosmopolis of Singapore.
Singapore- RPT Street Sign -Enlarge-
During a full year of research on such guru-centered movements in Singapore, I encountered many similar settings: halls, usually rented for an evening, where the devotees of a guru would roll down rugs, set up the guru's portrait, create a make-shift altar in front with flowers and incense (sometimes food), and then begin a weekly or monthly meeting, satsang, which usually included group meditation, some yoga, chanting and singing. Often in undistinguished commercial buildings, the exterior or the interior of these halls could be located with some exceptions in any city in contemporary urban Asia. Indeed I attended similar meetings in eerily similar spaces in Chennai, India as well. I now ask how these do these placeless places function for these increasingly popular movements, which claim to work on the consciousness, the inner life, of their members and yet at the same time, to attune them to the needs of others. Most of these movements sponsor many social service projects connecting their members with the urban and rural poor. The closed-eyes, the focus on imagination and meditation, seem at once to create a vast inner space connected to the universe and in some way to a larger community, and yet seemingly disconnected to any place. Is this a paradox or a very contemporary enspacement rather than emplacement in an emerging sense of global (dis)location?
Shifting Places: Three Buddhist temples and Urban Space in Southeast China
In the past two decades, reconstruction of religious places has been an important part of the urbanization process in China. In this process of rebuilding, members of religious groups are redefining their boundaries and negotiating their positions with the larger social worlds. This paper discusses three such religious places in a small/medium-sized city in the Southeastern province of Jiangsu. All of them are Buddhist and yet they occupy very different geographical and social space. The first one is a Buddhist nunnery that was relocated to its current site due to city planning. Because of the limited space they are offered by the city government, the abbot took great pride in designing a non-conventional three-story temple to accommodate their needs. The second one is a lay Buddhist group that was housed in an apartment in a residential complex that was donated by one of the members. It is used as a place of worship, meditation, and teaching for mostly elderly in the neighborhood and is communally run. The third one was built on the site of a community temple of a former village, which is now a high-end industrial park. The temple was absorbed into the city landscape with the factories nearby encroaching on the land that belongs to the temple. Different from large touristy temples, all three religious sites I have sketched seem to have been pushed to the spatial margins of the city and yet they are the most active and alive in terms of community participation. This paper explores how, by creating small niches within the larger secular society dominated by a market economy, those religious places shape the experience and subjectivity of the individual members of the groups.
Protestant Churches’ Conceptions of Places in the Seoul Metropolitan Area
This paper demonstrates three newly formed strategies to create places used by protestant churches in the Seoul metropolitan area. First, some big churches with more than ten thousand members construct elaborate buildings, which are used as a sacred “place.” These so-called “mega churches” try to construct pricey branch-church buildings in the most developed areas of Seoul. This type of strategy emphasizes the value of physical place, an emphasis shown by the buildings being titled a “temple.” Churches pursue the second strategy for the homeless or some churches located in low-income neighborhoods. Most of these small and poorer churches cannot afford to have their own places for worship service, though they might have small administrative offices. Without worship space, these small-scale churches use public places for worship in the metropolitan Seoul. They employ the back streets or playgrounds as temporary sacred space. The churches that adopt the third strategy try to distribute their resources in other directions, such as educating lay members, raising funds for social welfare, or participating in cultural movements, instead of investing their energy on building a “place.” Some churches using this third strategy think that the attachment to physical space does not match up with the protestant idea of church as a holy community. I explore the nuances and implications of these three strategies here.