Temples, Trust and Trade: Chinese Temple Networks in Southeast Asia
Date : 21 Nov 2017 - 22 Nov 2017
Venue : Asia Research Institute, Seminar Room
AS8 Level 4, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
Organisers : Kenneth DEAN

The spread of religious networks is one of the most important cultural aspects of globalization today. This conference will bring together scholars based in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and China to examine specific case studies of the historical formation and contemporary flourishing of certain of the trade, temple and trust networks that emerged from the spread of migration of Chinese from the south and southeast coast of China to Southeast Asia.

Underlying and funding many of these temples and association were the great Chinese business families and extended lineages, the different dialect groups and their huiguan (regional business associations) and tongxianghui (native place associations), and the brotherhoods that enforced their mutually exclusive limits and economic niches. This conference seek papers that focus on Chinese temples, institutions, and business families with transnational networks. Papers that can relate the spread of these networks to the role of the temples/associations in their local context are welcome. Other papers may wish to explore the interactions between temples and associations in a particular region over time.  Despite the centrality of these networks, there are still very few published case studies of their ritual and economic activities. Thus the conference will lead to a publication that will fill a major gap in the historiography of Southeast Asian Chinese communities.

This conference will focus on local historical sources from Southeast Asia to explore the role of and the interaction between the Chinese temple, family-lineage, and native place association networks in Southeast Asia in building long distance trust networks. All of these institutions played a part in the formation of a unique form of Chinese capitalism, which formed within the transnational networks linking south and southeast China to Southeast Asia. Some religious networks rejected national identities in place of either more local identities or more universal identities. Conference papers will examine the aspirations that can be found within many such religious networks, as these values motivated people to transfer wealth into religious merit and temple building, to re-circulate their wealth through charities, or more radically, to direct their profits into ritual fasting or support for the Dharma.

The networks examined in this conference moved and continue to flow past political borders and boundaries, They are incredibly flexible and developed fluid networking strategies. Many transcend or reshape ethnic or kinship boundaries while bringing their members into very specific regimes of exchange and reciprocity and mobilization. New religious networks in Southeast Asia have continually layered themselves onto the kaleidoscopic pattern of pre-existing networks, drawing upon the reservoir of shared symbolic capital within these networks, redirecting these resources towards their own ends, sometimes moralizing or expanding the sense of the self, or introducing a sense of belonging to a universal community beyond the bounds of the nation or any ethnicity. The networks discussed in the conference can also be seen as part of the ongoing expansion of religious connectivity and communication in Asia. Many networks are now exploring contemporary techniques and using new technologies to spread their message(s) and connect their adherents together across Southeast Asia and the world as a whole. This conference will solicit papers that explore a broad range of religious networks within the Chinese communities of Southeast Asia.


Professor Kenneth Dean

Asia Research Institute, and Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore

Contact Person(s)
Sharon ONG