A Secular Age in South, East, and Southeast Asia?
Date : 06 Mar 2017 - 07 Mar 2017
Venue : Asia Research Institute, Seminar Room
AS8 Level 4, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore @ KRC
Organisers : Kenneth DEAN , Peter van der VEER
Download Program & Abstracts

Organized by the Asia Research Institute; with funding support from the Office of the Deputy President (Research & Technology) of the National University of Singapore; and in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Germany.

The study of secularism has mostly focused on the West, in particular, on Northern Europe and North America. The philosopher Charles Taylor has been the most prominent theorist of the secular age and of the nature of post-secular society in the West. He has noticed that terms like secular, secularization, and secularism crop up in many places outside the West, but may not mean the same in very different historical and cultural contexts. In his engagement with the work on India and China of Peter van der Veer he has also pointed out that it is necessary to sort out what travelled and what not in ‘the imperial encounter’ between Western secular modernity and other traditions outside of the west. This workshop will examine these differences and pose alternatives to Taylor’s account of secularism for the East and Southeast Asian context, with particular attention to Catholicism in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Singapore, Protestantism in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, and Hinduism and Chinese religion in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. It will do so by 1) exploring alternative forms of “secular” state relations with religious groups at different points in Chinese and South-East Asian history: 2) examining the nature of Catholicism in the Philippines and in Vietnam and the survival of a complex set of relations between the state and Catholic communities there in order to propose an alternative account of processes of secularization in East Asian Catholicism in conversation with the work of Jose Casanova; 3) analyzing the recent rapid spread of Pentecostal Christianity in China and Southeast Asia and different state responses to these developments in order to develop a deeper understanding of post-secular strategies and relations in these areas.

The first panel will explore Catholicism in the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore and China. A second panel will explore Protestant Christianity in Southeast Asia, especially the spread of Pentecostal Christianity, and the implications of these developments for secular states in the region. A third panel will explore popular religion and its relation to the state in China, India, and parts of Southeast. This panel seeks to take seriously the role of diverse regional ritual cultures and spirit possession in Chinese religion inspired by Kenneth Dean’s work on ritual self-governance. The current revival of religion under the CCP secular state will also be examined. A final panel will raise general comparative questions on the nature of secularization in Southeast Asia in relation to imperialism, post-imperial state policies, and the rise of global cities.


Admission is free, and seats are available on a first come, first served basis. Please email to minghua.tay@nus.edu.sg to indicate your interest to attend the workshop.



Prof Kenneth DEAN
Asia Research Institute, and Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore
E | chshead@nus.edu.sg

Prof Peter van der VEER
Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Germany
E | vanderveer@mmg.mpg.de


Ms TAY Minghua
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
E | minghua.tay@nus.edu.sg

Contact Person(s)
Minghua TAY