The Politics of Secularism
Religiosities in Sri Lanka & Singapore

Bridge-Burning and Boundary-Crossing:                                  

Transnational Evangelism, Conversion, and Nativist Religious Commitment among Minorities of Sri Lanka and Singapore


Neena Mahadev, CETREN Postdoctoral Fellow


Comparing cases of Sri Lanka and Singapore, I propose to investigate how transnational and local flows of religosities, and incitements to convert or resist conversion, fashion the experiences of belonging among ethnic minorities. My dissertation research examined the impassioned rivalries between Buddhists and Christians who act upon different constructions of the ethics of religious propagation, and details how such tensions are generative of transformations in the realm of ritual, soteriology, and religious experience. Strikingly, these varieties of Christianity originate not only from the West, but also from Asian metropoles. The transnational flows of Christianity in Asia which connect the Sri Lankan “periphery” to “Asia’s Antiochs” of Singapore and Seoul have received little scholarly attention. Through my postdoctoral work I intend to transform the dissertation into a book manuscript, and to commence a new project that tracks flows of religious influence, and which compares experiences of belonging under different Asian political milieus. I will add a new dimension to my study of Sri Lanka by examining ethnic and religious boundary­crossing and bridge-burning. I also hope to develop a comparative component on Christian conversion and Hindu apostasy among Singaporean Tamils.

Dr. Neena Mahadev (2013-2015)

CETREN Postdoctoral Researcher in the project “The Politics of Secularism and the Emergence of New Religiosities”

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen



BA Sociology/Anthropology, concentration in South Asian Studies, Carleton College, USA

MA Social Sciences, University of Chicago, USA
MA and PhD, Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University, USA


Neena Mahadev’s expertise lies within the subfields of the anthropology of religion and political anthropology. She is also influenced by the fields of comparative religion and theology. Her ethnographic work accounts for inter-religious rivalry and conflict, but does so with an eye towards empirically examining the conditions of possibility for religious pluralism in contexts of where there is a prevalence of exclusionary identitarian attachments to religion. Her research probes the way that religious subjectivities and aspects of religious politics are shaped by the material and ideological entailments of theology (drawing on concepts of economic theology and political theology) particular to distinct religious traditions. Moreover, Neena’s work explores the religious newness that is engendered within a field of mutual religious influences; particularly, she examine how liturgy and soteriological aspirations shift under the influence of rival forms of religiosity, as well as under the constraints of a state that privileges particular religious forms.

The current book project builds upon her dissertation (2013) which is entitled, “Buddhist Nationalism, Christian Evangelism, and the Rearticulations of Conflict and Belonging in Postwar Sri Lanka.” Based on two years of field research in Sri Lanka, Neena examined expressions of religious conviction, identity politics of religion among Theravāda Buddhist and the Sri Lankan Christian (especially Roman Catholic and Pentecostal) communities. The work systematically examined the mutual skepticism that Buddhists and Christians expressed towards one another in the context of disputes over religious conversion, particularly from the mid-1990s until present. It also examines the politically expedient and the theologically orthodox lines along which alliances between Buddhists and certain denominational segments of Christianities were forged, especially under the revised demands of ethno-religious nationalism in Sri Lanka’s post-war era.

Neena’s new research project within CETREN will undertake a study of religious and ethnic “bridge-burning and boundary crossing,” in Sri Lanka and also Singapore, through an examination of itinerant religiosities within and between these different socio-political milieus. She plans to study the the trans-regional religious links between the two countries, especially in terms of the traffic of Buddhist, Christian and Hindu influences between South, Southeast and also East Asia.


T: +49 551 39 21286
F: +49 551 39 21284


Georg-Universität-Universität Göttingen
Heinrich-Düker-Weg 14
37073 Göttingen