Bourdieu, Religious Fields and Social Power in Mainland Southeast Asia

Type

Laboratory

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Abstract

Inspired by Stanley Tambiah’s seminal ethnography of spirit cults and the religious field in Northeast Thailand, scholars of religion in mainland Southeast Asia have since the 1970s intermittently deployed the idea of the “religious field” to analyze religious diversity, hierarchy and opposition within particular national settings. Scholarship about the religious fields of Southeast Asia, however, has rarely engaged with Pierre Bourdieu's sociological theorizing of social fields or the subsequent work on social field theory which has flowed from his work. This laboratory will ask scholars of religion in Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos to bring these two trajectories of scholarship into critical conversation. What theoretical, analytical and methodological similarities and differences unite and divide the conceptualizations of a religious field by Tambiah and Bourdieu? How can the conceptual vocabularies and analytic models of Bourdieu and others theorists of social fields enrich the interpretation of religious structures, hierarchies, complementarities and contestation in modern and pre-modern Southeast Asia? What are the limitations of applying sociological theories of social fields in Southeast Asia given that they have primarily emerged and been applied to societies of the modern industrial Christian West? How does the unique historical, religious and socio-political dynamics of colonialism, nation-building and the revival of various religious traditions in Southeast Asia suggest productive ways in which Bourdieu’s theorizing of social fields need to be revised and re-imagined in a global era?

This laboratory will establish a dialogue between junior and senior scholars of religion, anthropology and sociology who research contrasting domains, fields and dynamics of social power and religiosity in contemporary mainland Southeast Asia. By thinking comparatively both within national settings and across the mainland region, the laboratory seeks to develop a more robust, critical and nuanced conceptual and analytic vocabulary through which to advance the comparative study of religious pluralism, social power and historical agency in Southeast Asian and beyond.