Sacredness and Materiality in East and Southeast Asia

Title: 1331 | Sacredness and Materiality in East and Southeast Asia
Area: Border Crossing and Inter-Area
Stream: Religion
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Kazuo Fukuura, Toin University of Yokohama, Japan (organizer, presenter, chair)
Hidekazu Sensui, Kanagawa University, Japan (presenter, discussant)
Ryohei Takamura, Akita University, Japan (presenter)
Atsuko Fukuura, Shiga University, Japan (presenter)


In contemporary East and Southeast Asia, the economic, social and political transformations and developments have affected on transformation and revitalisation of religion. Consequently, religious practices in these regions have been moulded and registered uniquely and significantly as enduring communal ties and memories, as well as spiritual authority in everyday lives of the people. In these circumstances, religious fetishes are frequently recalled, resurrected, and mobilised as symbolic nexuses in specific social contexts. This panel will explore their diverse and situated agencies in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Thailand to elucidate how materialities in religious beliefs have been formed, recognised and arranged in these historical and contemporary crossroads of Asia. What kind of relationship is there between seemingly ordinary fetishes on the altars of Okinawan shamans and their thought about the transcendental interaction with their possessing deities? How have burden of labour required for managing graves and rise in land prices influenced reconfiguration of cemeteries and religious practices in Jeju Islanders in South Korea? Why have Singaporean Chinese become more and more enthusiastic about negotiating with government agencies to maintain and develop their Daoism temples and religious practices? In terms of materiality, how has the city pillar worship been created, reconfigured, and modified throughout the history of Chiang Mai, northern Thailand? By means of these case studies, this panel will clarify comprehensively the depth and diversity of relationships between sacredness and materiality in these two regions.

Panel Abstracts:
The Evolution of Pillar Worship in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand
From the end of the thirteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century, there was a kingdom known as Lan Na, or a million rice fields, located in the north region of the Indochina peninsula. Chiang Mai, or ‘new city’, was the centre of the kingdom and has had the city pillar called Inthakhin, or the Pillar of God Indra at its navel. Inheriting the tradition of pillar worship from indigenous Lawa, Khon Mueang, or ‘people of the traditional city-state’, have reconfigured, modified, and refined it throughout their history. The pillar meant two aspects in one entity: the pillar itself as an impersonal source of supernatural power, and the pillar as the symbol of the tutelary spirit of the city. The remaining chronicles, which tell the legendary stories concerning how it was delivered to rescue the city from crisis, have variants which detail its different materialities and different kinds of powers it can project. Furthermore, shortly after World War II, the pillar worship transitioned into a new framework of spirit mediumship by transferring one of the two aspects of the pillar into another ritual tradition, another materiality. Since then, mediums and their religious practices have developed with the worship. This paper will explore the materiality, myth, and social roles of the pillar and its worship throughout the history of the kingdom, and moreover, the close relationship between the reconfiguration of the worship and a group of mediums in existence since the mid-twentieth century.

Banal Objects and a Causative Theory of Behavior among Okinawan Shamans
It is sometimes observed in Okinawa that shamans keep a coral pebble on their alter at home. Such a pebble is said to manifest itself as the very one to be picked up even though it lacks any distinctive shape from others on the beach. However, it is never the target of prayer and simply placed there unmentioned in any context. This puzzle between the religious attribute of the object and the lack of its fetishism will be solved by a causative theory of human behavior to which Okinawan shamans subscribe. The owner of the coral pebble says that she was “handed it over.” Likewise, when talking about their visit to sacred groves, shamans say that they “are made to walk” there. Images in dreams are not what shamans see but what “is shown” to them. Shamans “are allowed to notice,” rather than discover, the hidden problems of their clients. Their peculiar, excessive use of causative verbs implies that shamans constantly create the agency of spirits by playing the role of their patients. This will lead to a radical revision of the concept of spirit possession; contrary to the existing literature on Okinawan shamanism, any common images in dreams can be interpreted as a spirit presence and any ordinary, conscious utterance can be interpreted as a message from spirits. Banal objects such as coral pebbles also receive spiritual interpretation as things handed over but not receive worship because the objects as such are not believed to have any supernatural powers.

Changes in Cemetery and Land Use on Jeju Island, South Korea
Korean society has patrilineal lineages and cemeteries are a significant place for ancestors. The fact that they are placed outdoors has often resulted in conflicts with other styles of land use. The forms of graves and cemeteries are complex of ancestor worship, social relationships and the economic or legal environment of land use. Jeju Island is one of the most rapidly changing regions in Korea in terms of land use, and the forms of cemeteries and graves are also changing. The most important event related to cemeteries on Jeju is cleaning up the graves. Cutting grass around scattered graves requires a lot of labor, so nowadays it is common to gather scattered graves into a "family cemetery" which is built by a family or a lineage. Another reason for such a concentration of graves is the rise in land prices due to land development and a shortage of land for graves. In some cases, first-generation residents in Japan from Jeju lead the establishment of a family cemetery. On the other hand, the rate of cremation has been increasing all over South Korea, including Jeju, in the last 20 years. In many cases, bodies in existing graves are cremated and collected, and cemeteries and charnel houses are built along with the cremation. This paper will examine how the Islanders reconstruct their cemeteries and graves under such a situation, what factors are involved in the transformation, and how the meaning of the cemetery space has changed.

Validity for Land Use and Eternal Belief in Daoism Temple in Singapore
While Singapore has become famous for its urbanity as global crossroads of materials and migrants, spirit mediumship and religious activities in Taoism temples have thrived there for a long time. In addition, though these temples had been were iconic place for the ethnic Chinese in the city’s history, recent observation suggests that they have come to include more and more other ethnic groups in their activities. Though the recent rate of economic grows of the city-state has been striking, the economic disparity has been significantly widened and there are many people who are living in poverty. In the circumstances, what kinds of measures have been taken by these temples? This paper will elucidate their multilayered raisons d'être in the rapidly changing social environment by exploring various activities managed by them ranging from regular trance séance rituals to the annual banquet ceremony. Furthermore, this paper refers to these temples’ struggle for existence in the city-state. In Singapore, most of the land on which temples are built are owned by the state, and it is mostly the case that right for land use and the land ownership are separated. On each renewal time, they spend much prescribed fee and reconstruct new building. As the expiration date for land use looms, what kind of impact do the religious temporality give to the devotees? As a whole, this paper will examine the recent transformation of the belief regarding the specific social condition environment in the city-state affected by massive neoliberal inclination

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