Vol. 12, No. 1 (2016), 93-124
In Chinese communities in the Asia Pacific region, religion constitutes an integral element of Chinese cultural identity. However, in Singapore’s ethnically mixed environment, religious synthesis is becoming increasingly common with Chinese vernacular religion integrating beliefs and practices from neighbouring ethnic groups. Government policy in Singapore on the management of ethnic groups has been shaped by the aspiration to construct a multicultural nationalistic state, inadvertently fuelling religious acculturation, appropriation, interpenetration, transfiguration, hybridisation and cultural borrowing between ethnic and religious groups. An analysis of the interrelationship between the socio-political and religious arenas highlights varied catalysts that trigger these “technologies of new religious synthesis,” and provides illustrations of their fundamental role as “self-perpetuating mechanisms” in multi-faith religious landscapes.
Fabian C. Graham (PhD in Social Anthropology, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London) is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Gottingen, Germany. His current research maps recent developments in Chinese temple culture and temple networks which involves first identifying changes in and diffusion of ritual and material culture, and then accounting for the evolution of difference between the religious landscapes in Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. His specialisation within this field is tang-ki spirit mediumship with a primary focus on ritual practices and trance possession among a selection of deity cults. Working closely with spirit mediums and their devotees, and adopting a participatory approach where possible to fieldwork, his analysis incorporates the societal factors that have influenced the development of distinct religious elements in each location. His broader research interests include the anthropology of Chinese religion, folk and orthodox Taoism, the invention and reinterpretation of tradition, ethnographic approaches to the study of religious phenomena, and evolving forms of new syncretic practices in the Asia Pacific region.