Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology and The Ethnographic Collection

Research Project

  • Since April 2011: The social placing of religion and spirituality in Vietnam in the context of Asian modernity at the competence network Dyamics of Religion in Southeast Asia; Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology Göttingen (funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (01UC1102A))

    The beginning of the Vietnamese reform policy in 1986 ushered in more tolerance towards religion and spirituality, thereby calling into question their roles in Vietnamese society. Even though the official socialist state ideology still claims societal and political leadership and al-liance to a normative modernity, religious and spiritual practices are employed by actors not only to come to terms with modernization processes, but also to negotiate with the state and other agents of modernization for the tolerance of religion and its place in society. Like this, “modernity” is interpreted, appropriated and rejected in various ways. Religion thereby assumes an imperative role in determining, conveying, and shaping modernity: it helps people deal with modernity’s consequences, take a critical stand towards it, and fulfill its po-tential. As such, modernity’s various effects are conveyed here by means of concrete action-guiding ethical, moral, social, political and economic models as well as personhood and agency. Through literature and archival research, the intellectual foundations of these mod-els (Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, ancestor and spirit cults, nationalism, li-beralism, socialism and communism) will be thoroughly investigated so as to serve a basis for an ethnographic actor-centered investigation. This will in turn be applied to an urban Vi-etnamese context. Placing in this case does not only metaphorically refer to the role of reli-gion and spirituality in present-day Vietnam. Rather, placing here should refer to concrete forms of religious and spiritual practice in spatial praxis that serve as interfaces to bring to-gether actors, practices and models of interaction. These can be in ritual practice, ancestor and spirit cults or in the realm of divinatory practices such as horoscope readings, geomancy and physiognomy. One might begin here by examining specific sacred geographical loca-tions, spatial paths used in ritual practices by certain actors, or disputes over the meaning and usage of ritual places, in other words spaces where actors merge religion, spirituality and modernity. “Modernity” should be summarized here as a set of structuring principles that are articulated in and through spatial practice, for example by state administrative con-trol of spaces and rituals, the commercialization of ritual practices, the commodification and economization of daily life or the politics of culture and identity.