Originally trained as an architect and urban designer, additionally benefitting from my graduate trainings in history, Modern Chinese Studies, and anthropology, I have been a firm advocate for architects and urban planners designing for “what people need,” as opposed to what architects think people need. Because of this firm belief in the deep understanding of the built environmet vis-à-vis its social relations I began studying anthropology, a discipline in which I am currently writing my PhD dissertation at Harvard University. In my doctoral work, I am analyzing the relationship between space and the way it orients people’s actions, commitments, and kinship practices from the perspective of those taking part in the process of urban transformation in China. My primary case study centers on Shanghai’s traditional alleyway neighborhood typology. Despite its global city status, Shanghai’s urban space is defined by the contested global hierarchy of value, usually represented in forms of high-rise buildings, and the local customs of its residents. For instance, one often sees a group of senior Shanghainese citizens gathering to pay respect to their ancestors and carrying on a long and lively conversation with one another. That is, the spiritual spaces are also perceived as social spaces. While the new high-rise buildings are rapidly replacing the traditional social spaces of the ordinary citizens, mostly with malls, these residents necessitate their sociality by transforming ad hoc spaces throughout the city into their community spaces. Caught between the mission of becoming modern in the western sense and the traditions of its population, Shanghai’s urbanscape is dotted with both the religious spaces, such as temples, ancestral halls, memorials, and churches, and the “community” spiritual spaces, such as parks, tea shops, and alleyways in a traditional neighborhood that are often transient and covert. The layers of analysis here involves both the bottom-up process of adaptation and negotiation of the citizens themselves to make use of the land resources that are becoming more limited for the underprivileged like themselves, and the top-down planning process from the government whose aim is to capitalize on the religiosity often housed in a historic monument. Thus, I feel that my PhD work fits perfectly with the framework of the first thematic issue on the transformations of religious site, as it looks critically at the role of historic traditional architecture from an interdisciplinary perspective, both as heritage and social entity, in the context of urban governance through city planning program.
I’m pursuing doctoral studies at Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. My research project is an attempt to imagine the postcolonial city of Kolkata as an ‘Islamicate sensorium’ that circumscribes the everyday lives of its city dwellers. I am interested in understanding the ways in which conceptions and everyday discourses of the ‘supernatural’ inflect the lives of people who live in a city with very visible global developments but continue to exhibit religious modes of being. My research interests during my Masters in the discipline of Sociology and M.Phil studies in Social Sciences were primarily located in the field of sexuality studies and media studies. My M.Phil dissertation titled ‘Truth and Other Lies: Telling Queer Stories’ involved a narrativization of the experiences of gay men and lesbian women in the city of Kolkata and Delhi in order to underscore the importance of ‘story’ as a method for doing sexuality studies. Engaging with field of urban sexual geographies andusing the trope of ‘stories’ my dissertation attempted to think about the sexuality of spaces as inherently polymorphous, fluid and a function of the sexuality of its users. Given that I am interested in how discourses about supernatural entities influence individual and collective behaviour of city dwellers, particularly Muslims in Kolkata, sexuality studies can provide interesting insights into the ways in which such behaviours are always already gendered and sexualized. For my doctoral research, I have begun to engage with literature on the anthropology of religion, particularly anthropology of Islam, anthropology of Spirit possession, urban sociology and sociology of religion in postcolonial India. In the light of the same, I think the summer school will provide me with an invaluable opportunity to not only learn and understand the intersections between religion and city life in the postcolonial context of South Asia but also interact with scholars who are engaging with similar issues in their own research. While belief in supernatural entities is as old as human existence, the persistence of such beliefs in a city impacted by global forces must confront these forces, resist them, and at the same time articulate itself in new forms – for instance, the imagination of malls as satanic spaces.
Alexander Blechschmidt studied Cultural Anthropology, Physical Anthropology, and History of Science (Magister Artium) at Georg-August-University Göttingen, where he also worked as a student assistant in the BMBF funded research network “Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia” (DORISEA). After completing his magister thesis on organized atheism and the dynamics of religion and modernity in the Philippines, he continued to work on this topic as a research assistant in the DFG funded Emmy Noether-project on “The Diversity of Nonreligion” at Goethe-University Frankfurt/Main. His Ph.D. research with the working title “Organized Atheism, Humanism, and Freethought in the Philippines: Social Practices, Lived Experiences, and Political Dimensions of Being Nonreligious in a Religious Nation” is supervised by Dr. Johannes Quack and Prof. Dr. Peter J. Bräunlein. From August 2013 to May 2014 he stayed in Metro Manila as a research affiliate at the Anthropology Department of the University of the Philippines (UP) to do fieldwork with different nonreligious groups. His research focuses on two contemporary groups, the Filipino Freethinkers (FF) and the Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society (PATAS), but also includes other (past and present) like-minded groups and the reconstruction of a general history of (organized) nonreligion in the Philippines.
Mark Joseph Calano is assistant professor of philosophy and theology at the Ateneo de Manila University (Philippines). He is a graduate of Bachelor of Philosophy (2000, cum laude), M.A. Philosophy (2004, cum laude), M.A. Religious Studies (2007, magna cum laude), and Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics (2006, magna cum laude) from Saint Louis University (Philippines). He teaches Philosophy of Religion, Foundations of Moral Evaluation, and Human Sexuality, Marriage, and Family in the Catholic Tradition. He is also a Ph.D. candidate in Philosophy from Ateneo where he is working on Jacques Derrida and his philosophy of Religion. Mark’s research interests revolve around religion and its relationship with Philippine society and culture. He utilizes data and research from the social sciences and uses it for heuristic purposes to push forward philosophical reflection and thinking. His interest to do research with the dynamics between the Catholic devotion to Quiapo’s Black Nazarene and the Metropolitan City of Manila (Philippines) traces back to his reading of Rey Ileto’s historical analysis entitled Pasyon and Rebolusyon—the framework of interpretation used in this research. It is in this context that the acculturated and appropriated devotion is understood as a dissent and a reaction towards the homogenizing Roman Catholic Church and the ever-expanding Cityscapes between and among the rural and the urban, the dominantly male and the growing female mamamasan (devotees).
After completing my university studies in Switzerland (BA Cultural Studies, University of Lucerne; MA “Religious Cultures” at the Center for Global Studies, University of Bern), I am currently holding a Ph.D. scholarship from the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context” at Heidelberg University (Germany). Being part of the Junior Research Group "Transcultural Dynamics of Pentecostalism: Pentecostal Christianity between Globalisation and Localised Spheres in Singapore and the Straits ", my research focuses on the dynamics of Singaporean based Christian missionary activities both within the city-state and across Southeast Asia. The growing presence of evangelical Christianity in Singapore and its global missionary zeal of transforming the world through evangelism challenge the very ideas of the urban public sphere and the ‘secular’ nature of the multi-confessional and multi-ethnic Singaporean polity. In an environment, where the government exercises strong bureaucratic and legal control over the functioning of all religious matters Christians are thus forced to creatively develop flexible strategies to negotiate their position within society and their relation to the Singapore state. Taking up the notion of the “global city”, I will seek to understand how Christians in Singapore re-engage the imaginary of Singapore as the Christian “Antioch of Asia” and how this self-understanding in turn is reflected and impacts Singaporean missionary practices and strategies. Examining both local and transnational mission practices, as well as following recent public discourses on family values and sexual morality, I will analyze the ways Christians locate themselves within the nation as a rooted aspect of the national community without losing their evangelical and outward-oriented character.
I'm a PhD Candidate at the Centre for the Study of Social System, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University. My research work ‘New Religious Movements in Post-Independent India: A Sociological Study of Vishwa Nirmala Dharma’ aims to highlight the socio-cultural circumstances which necessitate and facilitate rise and growth of new religious movements (NRMs) in Post-Independent India. As Indian society is undergoing rapid transformation and a new middle class with new aspirations is emerging, we witness the steady growth of religious channels on television, phenomenal growth of new gurus and cults, and new preoccupation with yoga, ayurveda, health and alternative life practices. My project focuses on fast-growing and high-profile contemporary Guru faith originating in India and attracting a transnational following. By drawing upon multi-sited fieldwork among Sahaja Yoga's primarily urban, educated ‘middle-class’ Indian devotees, I intend to provide crucial insights into new trends in popular Hinduism in a post-Independent and rapidly modernizing urban Indian setting. Rooted into an interpretative framework it addresses issues like Who Joins Sahaja Yoga and Why? In other words how do people, otherwise modern, in a metropolitan city like Delhi become interested in NRMs? This thesis tends to argue that the story of contemporary Cities is not simply the story of well fed, well clothed men; it is also the story of intense agony- loss of self, communication and relatedness. There is suffering and anguish of the soul. Through various first hand narratives of new religious devotees in Delhi National Capital Region (NCR) this paper explicates the existential dilemma of service class in urban areas and the role of new religious groups as a ‘surrogate family’ in addressing these existential dilemmas.
Simon Wolfgang Fuchs is a PhD candidate at Princeton University's Department of Near Eastern Studies. He is primarily interested in modern negotiations of the Islamic tradition. For his dissertation, he studies theological and legal debates among Pakistani Shiʿi religious scholars (ʿulama) and the struggle for Shiʿi orthodoxy since the late colonial period. Simon's work inter alia traces shifting conceptions of religious authority, the intellectual reception of the Iranian revolution and the changing nature of sectarianism in South Asia. Simon pays close attention to transnational links between Pakistan, India and the Middle East and examines how ideas are translated, appropriated and resisted when they travel between these regions. To gain access to rare materials in Urdu, Persian, and Arabic, extensive fieldwork of 15 months has led Simon to libraries and archives in Pakistan, India, Iraq, Iran and the United Kingdom. His work has appeared in Modern Asian Studies, the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Die Welt des Islams and Contemporary Islam. He is also the author of the book Proper Signposts for the Camp: The Reception of Classical Authorities in the Ǧihādī Manual al-ʿUmda fī Iʿdād al-ʿUdda (Ergon: Würzburg 2011). Before coming to Princeton, Simon graduated with an MA in Islamic Studies and Political Science from the University of Tübingen. He was a visiting student at Duke University's Department of Political Science and studied Arabic in Damascus and Persian in Tehran.
Jelka Günther, M.A. is PhD student and research assistant at the Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology of the Georg-August-University of Göttingen (Germany). Her research interests include non-western tourism, the anthropology of borderlands, dynamics of modernities and urban-rural relations with a regional focus on Southeast Asia especially on Thailand. Between March 2012 and February 2013 she conducted fieldwork in a small Northeastern Thai town for her PhD project with the working title “Life in Chiang Khan: Ethnographic Perspectives on Domestic Tourism at the Thai-Lao Border”. Based on these findings the thesis aims to give an ethnographically thick description of non-Western tourism which has only recently been acknowledged in the study of tourism. Ensuing from narratives on the rise and impact of tourism of peculiar interest are the workings of nostalgia, processes of authentication and the commodification of the rural. It is in this sense that domestic tourism in Thailand sheds light on middle-class aspirations and respective supply of urban amenities, hence on the progressing urbanization of a rural setting, on the phenomenon of urban-to-rural migration or on tourists’ consumption of ‘traditional’ ways of life. Religion, more prominently the Theravada Buddhist almsgiving ceremony, emerged as one stage in which imaginations of the rural and the urban are negotiated along differing religious practices.
Amen Jaffer is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at the New School for Social Research. Previously he has a Masters in Sociology (Research) from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Jaffer's dissertation research draws from theories of publics, religion and urban life to interrogate the role of religion in the urban civil society of South Asia. Specifically he looks at how participation in devotional publics associated with Sufi shrines offers a distinct form of urban community life and the possibility to forge unique identities. In large part due to their religious orientation, these devotional publics are formed at the intersection of a number of urban social networks. The resulting diversity in these publics is critical to their appeal. At the same time, religious capital also becomes a key factor in the hierarchical organization of these publics as those with spiritual standing assume leadership roles and exercise significant power. Furthermore, religious ideals can be mobilized for both inclusionary and exclusionary ends in these publics. The first part of Jaffer's dissertation seeks to understand the organization of devotional publics and their social structure by drawing from the ethnographic study of three such publics in the city of Lahore. In the second part, the focus shifts to exploring how participation in these publics allow for the creative construction of powerful identities that can transcend caste, gender and religious boundaries. This section is based on interviews with members of two marginalized groups of Lahore – a gypsy community and a hijra (third gender) family – and non-Muslims affiliated with shrines in a number of Indian cities.
Deepanjan Krishnan is a Phd Candidate in Modern Indian History at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He received is M.Phil in History from the University of Hyderabad in 2012. Deepanjan’s doctoral research is a work on the intellectual history of the left movement in Tamil Nadu. The ideas of Marxism entered the Indian subcontinent in late 1910’s. However, specific to the colonial Tamil political context, it had to contend with two forms of nationalism. One was the pan-Indian nationalism led by the Congress movement and another was the Dravidian nationalism propagated by the Self-Respect movement. This research intends to study the interaction of the left intellectuals with these two divergent strands of nationalisms. He would also study the engagement of the communists with the questions of caste, religion and culture. Historically caste has remained an issue integral to the socio-political sphere of Tamil Nadu. The lower caste movements emerged in Tamil Nadu during the latter half of the 19th century. The popular non-Brahmin Self-Respect movement was an anti caste-atheist movement. Scholarly works are available on the relationship between themes of caste, secularism and religion. Some studies claim that the Hindu religion forms the basis of the caste inequalities and that became the reason for the anti caste reformers to give call to opt out of Hinduism. The left approach to the question of caste would be an important aspect of the study. ‘Culture’ found prominence in the rhetoric of the Dravidian movement. The politics of the Dravidian movement was primarily based on culture. In this backdrop Deepanjan seeks to interrogate the understanding of the left on culture and the effectiveness of its cultural intervention. He would study the debates between the left movement and other prominent movements like Congress and the Dravidian movement on the subjects of caste, religion, culture and nationalism and also the debates within the left movement. The period of this thesis would be from 1920 till 1964. Early 1920’s was when the ideas of Marxism and communism first entered the subcontinent and 1964 was the year of split within the communist movement. Studies in the history of modern Tamil Nadu have primarily concentrated on the Dravidian movement, the nationalist movement, Saivite movement, etc. Whereas, academic researches on the left movement in Tamil Nadu is absent and this gap in Indian historiography is what this research seeks to bridge.
I'm a PhD Scholar at the Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Hyderabad. I have submitted an M.Phil dissertation titled Con-Scripts of Cinema: Caste and Criminal Spaces in Recent Tamil Films (2011) from the Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Hyderabad. I work on the Dalit narratives on Caste, Religion, and Culture from Colonial Madras presidency for my PhD at present. The project looks at the early 20th century “Dalit” mobilization to religiosity and expressive claim to religio-communitarian spaces and identity in South India, it primarily wishes to historicize such events in the subcontinent. It, therefore, envisages a particular kind of conceptualization that may have relevance for continuity in the present. For instance, the Tamil Buddhist movement, in the context of Dalit migration to presidential cities, industrial towns, railway quarters and military cantonments, as well as, the indentured labour migration to other countries like Burma, South Africa, and Ceylon perhaps created a cosmopolitan community-imaginary of a kind. With Ambedkar’s Buddhist movement, mobilization, as well as, state mechanism, the Dalit history and presence through religion, in fact, offer an alternative perspective to understand religiosity and conversion. My project foregrounds Pandit Iyothee Thass’ works (1845-1914), so as, to study religion as a category of knowledge enquiry and practice of history. It resists studying caste and religion, as categories, exclusively invented by the colonial state. Iyothee Thass’s attempt to constitute – a political community imaginary - as Buddhist and non-caste, and his contribution to culture, politics and Tamil language should be, perhaps, studied in the context of the scholarships by native-intellectuals who contributed, through print, and constituted Indian Christianity, Vedic Vaishnavaite and Saivaite Hinduism, as they gave content to different nationalist imaginaries in contest with each other. The project primarily explores how the Dalit-Subaltern practices of knowledge: writing, interpreting and conceptualizing de-institutes the formal nationalist contours of colonial-caste entrenched scholarship and knowledge production.
I am a 1st year PhD student in anthopology at CASE - “Centre Asie du Sud-Est”, at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) of Paris. My project deals with questions of religious practices in a context where both Buddhist architecture and cults are increasigly staged as magnets for fast growing tourism. I am interested in exploring this phenomenon both for its implications for inhabitants' everyday life in the area of Bagan, Myanmar, and the transformation of the sites they dwell in. The ancient city of Bagan – known as ‘Pagan’ until recently, situated in the heart of Nyaung Udistrict, Myanmar – can be considered as an exceptional site for multiple reasons: here is to be found an outstanding architectural and religious ‘heritage’ - an ambiguous and slippery notion I will try to clarify during my research. For centuries (since XI) this area had been at the center of both a powerful imperial and temporal force, and of Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia. Located on the banks of the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) river, more than 2000 temples, most of which still in exceptional conditions, cover a plain of 40 square meters. And yet its residents have not so long ago faced the effects of a brutal decision which potentially has its roots on western conceptions and realizations of ‘heritage’. In July 1990, the SPDC/SLORC (‘State Peace and Development Council, the old ‘State Law and Order Restoration Council’) junta made more than 5000 inhabitants leave the area to create the “Bagan Archaeological Zone”, at a full disposal of tourists. Despite considerable scholarship on the Bagan Archaeological Zone as a historical and architectural treasure, on the one hand, and its architectural forms (especially on their symbolic value as a magnet for tourism) on the other, more rare are studies on the everyday practices and ever transforming religious life, and the symbolic meanings circulating around the area today.
Nuki Mayasariis a graduate student from the Center of Religious and Cross-cultural Studies, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia. With a background of Anthropology during her bachelor, Mayasari did some researches related to religious tourism in Indonesia and Germany. Her researches are basically motivated to see how a space can variously be perceived by people from different cultural contexts. Besides, middle class consumption also personally interests her. Therefore, the long-term purpose of Mayasari’s research is to explore consumption, class, and tourism among citizen. Mayasari’s current research is entitled “Middle Class Religiosity”, seeking to explore the phenomenon of multiple pilgrimage practices among Muslim middle class in Indonesia. This research basically analyses multiple pilgrimage practices in term of: perception on pilgrimage; social class of pilgrims; and pilgrimage in relation to daily religiosity. Besides research, Mayasari is also enrolled in some community development projects, by founding a non-profit organization named ‘Waqia Foundation’. This organization is focused on distributing donation to empower children in orphanages by providing scholarship and stimulating entrepreneurship. Besides, Waqia Foundation is currently in a transformation to have an added rule as a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) consultant.
During my academic education – which started at the University of Cologne in 2009 – I became interested in both Material Culture Studies and the huge topic of religion. Currently, I´m a graduate student at the Georg-August-University in Goettingen and I look forward to develop and improve my master thesis at the Summer School. From January until this summer I was an exchange student at the National University of Singapore. During this time my focus on Material Culture Studies and religion narrowed and I looked for an opportunity to connect these fields of research. As you know, Singapore is the flagship for economic improvement in Southeast Asia. It is a city – as I experienced it – with lots of social, economic, cultural, and, at least, religious impulses. How is religion negotiated in this environment? I did a small fieldwork project in the Fu Lu Shou shopping centre where (mainly Buddhist) religious goods are traded. With the shopping centre I found a location which is confronted by habits, expectations, and aspirations of a consumer society. Fu Lu Shou was filled not only by these humane footprints, but filled with goods also that directed and orchestrated a religious economy. In this kind of economy, religion gets articulated in the words of value and efficacy – in my view a very exciting and odd combination at the same time! My central question is: What insights can be found in the connection of consumerism, urbanity, and materiality in respect to religion i.e. Buddhism?
I'm a Non-resident Vasey Fellow at the Pacific Forum, Center for Strategic and International Study (CSIS), and PHD candidate of Political Science Department, Spark M. Matsunaga institute for Peace & Conflict Resolution, University of Hawaii. I'm is conducting research on public interest advocacy, rights-seeking groups and civil society; my research interests include peace & conflict resolution, state-society relations, the comparative study of political participation and political culture, Chinese politics and foreign policy. My research project is about China’s emerging civil society and its implications for social and possible political changes. It aims to decode the tension between civil society and government, and further to clarify the so called threats of an enhanced civil society sector imposed to the government. There are brief analyses of the 2010 Massive Labor Protests, the 2011 Wukan Incident, the 2012 Anti-Japanese protest, the Oxford Consensus 2013 which will serve as basic background. The main focus of the research case study will be the hot-button environmental issue around the country about the protests against paraxylene (PX) petrochemical plant plan. I proposes to identify the influences of public interest advocacy of an increasing active society.The rise of public interest advocacy shows the utilization of the connections and resources of civil society via the new public sphere, and reveals a social tendency to achieve a multi-sectoral partnership among social actors. I also seek to better understand how the public interest advocacy groups shape government attitudes toward the emphasis on management transparency and accountable governance in response to the increase of social demand. By identifying the dynamics of the emerging rights-seeking groups/organizations for public interest advocacy, it aims to confirm the unleashed power of an active civil society.
Tom Vogelgesang presently attends the Master’s programme «Modern South and Southeast Asian Studies» at the Humboldt University Berlin. He specialises in the sociology of religion and focusses mainly on Buddhism. He works at the Department for South Asian Studies and at the Interdisciplinary Laboratory «Image Knowledge Gestaltung». When moving to Berlin for several years, Buddhist monks from South and Southeast Asia are changing their religious practices, which effects their daily routine and their definition of a «good Buddhist way of life». Although the monks interviewed for this study acknowledge that the German Buddhist practice is insufficient and lacks the essential duties and life style rules found in the societies of their home countries, within their own transformation the monks themselves are approaching a modern european practice, which relies mainly on meditation and textual studies of Buddhist scriptures. To understand this religious configuration the present study relates it to key concepts of european modernity showing that the statements and ideas of the monks — that come with a new freedom of religious practice in Berlin — are connected with self-empowerment, privatisation and the separation of religion from public society, which in turn questions the monks’ freedom of choice and agency in their religious practices. Thus the monks act according to the concept of «Modern» or «Protestant Buddhism». But as this adaptation to a Buddhism in protestant shape coincides with a lack of an Asian community in Berlin, the religious practices are less likely to be altered when there exists, for example, a large Thai community that visits the temple grounds regularly. Consequently, the community must be seen as an agent with a huge influence on the monk’s daily routine. Implying that there is no such thing as a pure, clearly definable religion, this study argues further that the presented Buddhist configuration can only be understood when the phenomenon itself is seen as a form of hybridisation — as a changing configuration dependent on place, time, several agents and their interaction with society.
Firdau Wajdi is a lecturer, currently on study leave, at the State University of Jakarta (Universitas Negeri Jakarta/UNJ). He was editor of Journal Studi Al-Quran (2008-2012), the Department of Islamic Studies, UNJ. Trained in Interdisciplinary Islamic Studies at the State Islamic University, Jakarta with support from IISEP Scholarships, Firdaus is currently pursuing his PhD, sponsored by an Australia Leadership Award Scholarship, at the Religion and Society Research Centre, the University of Western Sydney, Australia. As part of his postgraduate studies, Firdaus has conducted research in Indonesia, Canada, Egypt, and Turkey. In addition to his primary interest in the area of Interdisciplinary Islamic studies, his research interest spans within the area of religion and globalization. His current PhD project examines Turkish Muslim transnational movements via a case study of the Süleymancis in the current Indonesia. This dissertation focuses on the lesser known of the major Turkish piety renewal movements, the Süleymancis. So far studies of the movement have mostly focused on the Islamic teachings (dawah) of their spiritual leader, Süleyman Hilmi Tunahan. In contrast, this article reports on the organisational history and shape of the Süleymancis as a transnational organisation. It looks specifically at development of the Turkish origin transnational movement in Indonesia, based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Indonesia and Turkey in 2012 and 2013. This thesis examines what motivated the Süleymancis to grow beyond a national movement to a transnational organisation and how the Süleymancis selected Asian countries and cities as sites for branches. It also analyses how the organisation seeks to maintain its identity and values across the globe while at the same time adopting some local values. This study suggests that the concept of ‘opportunity structures’ can help explain the kinds of adaptations the organisation makes to local conditions in new regions of the world.