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Handbook of Religion and the Asian City

Handbook of Religion and the Asian City: Aspiration and Urbanization in the Twenty-First Century

EDITED BY Peter van der Veer
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 488
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  • Book Info
    Handbook of Religion and the Asian City
    Book Description:

    Handbook of Religion and the Asian Cityhighlights the creative and innovative role of urban aspirations in Asian world cities. It does not assume that religion is of the past and that the urban is secular, but instead points out that urban politics and governance often manifest religious boundaries and sensibilities-in short, that public religion is politics. The essays in this book show how projects of secularism come up against projects and ambitions of a religious nature, a particular form of contestation that takes the city as its public arena.Questioning the limits of cities like Mumbai, Singapore, Seoul, Beijing, Bangkok, and Shanghai, the authors assert that Asian cities have to be understood not as global models of futuristic city planning but as larger landscapes of spatial imagination that have specific cultural and political trajectories. Religion plays a central role in the politics of heritage that is emerging from the debris of modernist city planning.Megacities are arenas for the assertion of national and transnational aspirations as Asia confronts modernity. Cities are also sites of speculation, not only for those who invest in real estate but also for those who look for housing, employment, and salvation. In its potential and actual mobility, the sacred creates social space in which they all can meet.Handbook of Religion and the Asian Citymakes the comparative case that one cannot study the historical patterns of urbanization in Asia without paying attention to the role of religion in urban aspirations.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96108-1
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    Peter van der Veer
  4. INTRODUCTION: Urban Theory, Asia, and Religion
    (pp. 1-18)
    Peter van der Veer

    This book is about “urban aspirations” in Asia. Neither “urban” nor “aspirations” is selfevident, and these terms therefore require some discussion. Defining the urban would seem to require inventing its opposite, the rural. The rural-urban divide is one of the traditional pieties of the social sciences. Like most dichotomies, it hides as much as it clarifies. Certainly, there are important differences in scale between villages and cities, just as there are between megacities and provincial towns. These differences have significant implications for governance, housing, landownership, and industrial relations; surely, scale matters. However, the rural-urban divide should not be taken as...


    • 1 IN PLACE OF RITUAL: Global City, Sacred Space, and the Guanyin Temple in Singapore
      (pp. 21-36)
      Daniel P. S. Goh

      The pedestrian street outside the two temples was bustling with makeshift stalls selling flowers and other kinds of off erings and joss sticks of all sizes. Hawkers, when they were not busy touting their religious wares to passersby, were lighting up oilcans to provide devotees with the fire to light their joss sticks. Security officers were setting up metal barriers to direct the expected heavy flow of worshippers. The Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple was lit up with colorful festive lights. Younger worshippers know it simply as the Guanyin Temple. Older worshippers call it the Si Beh Lor (or...

    • 2 THE CITY AND THE PAGODA: Buddhist Spatial Tactics in Shanghai
      (pp. 37-51)
      Francesca Tarocco

      Eileen Chang’s description of Shanghai’s train station and machinic Buddhist hell possesses an almost clairvoyant quality.¹ It conjures memories of the hellish existence experienced by Shanghai urbanites since the mid-1990 s, a time when housing disputes and forced relocations unsettled their daily life, alongside the clangor of never-ending building sites.² Jing’an District (Jing’an qu静安曲), where Chang lived in the 1940 s, was engulfed in a frenzy of construction as part of the infrastructure development and cosmetic makeover of the city in preparation for the 2010 World Expo. The area is named after a Buddhist site whose physical appearance changed...

      (pp. 52-68)
      Vincent Goossaert

      Territory is one of the most important dimensions of Chinese socioreligious organization. Until 1949 , large cities were organized as systems of neighborhoods, each with its own territorial god and temple. The territorial temple was where births and deaths were reported (to the gods) and where local affairs were managed. Local religious life has resumed since the late 1970s, but for political and developmental reasons, the vast majority of urban neighborhoods have not been able to restore their temples. This has led to a chasm between the city, where religious grouping is by and large voluntary, and the countryside, where...

    • 4 GLOBAL AND RELIGIOUS: Urban Aspirations and the Governance of Religions in Metro Manila
      (pp. 69-88)
      Jayeel Serrano Cornelio

      The management of religions is not a central role of the agencies governing Metro Manila. Also known as the National Capital Region (NCR), Metro Manila is composed of sixteen cities and one municipality with their respective local government units.¹ Coordinating these units is the Metro Manila Development Agency (MMDA), which is often relegated to a short-term and often problem-solving role concerning traffic management and flood control, for example.

      If called for, city mayors or MMDA executives enforce existing laws concerning religion. According to various codes, state control over religion is limited to ensuring that organizations are registered as religious corporations,...

    • 5 THE MUHARRAM PROCESSION OF MUMBAI: From Seafront to Cemetery
      (pp. 89-109)
      Reza Masoudi Nejad

      The Muharram ritual has been constantly changed and reinvented in Mumbai over the past two centuries.¹ This chapter investigates the ritual as part of the cosmopolitan process through which Mumbai has been forged. The ritual, as practiced today, is constituted through an intensive interaction and tension between diverse social and religious groups that have come to Mumbai. The main procession of Muharram, which is a symbolic funeral of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, was directed toward seafronts in the eighteenth century. Today the procession goes toward Rahmetabad Cemetery in Mazgan. The shift from seafront to cemetery is the...

    • 6 URBAN PROCESSIONS: Colonial Decline and Revival as Heritage in Postcolonial Hong Kong
      (pp. 110-130)
      Joseph Bosco

      Hong Kong is a city of flows (Siu and Ku 2008 ), through which people have moved since the California gold rush and during subsequent waves of Chinese emigration to Southeast Asia, Europe and the Americas. At the same time, neighborhoods have developed, and some Hong Kong residents claim residence for their families in the same area for generations. While “new towns” and high apartment buildings have not been provided with temples, temples in traditional neighborhoods have been preserved, and they sometimes still hold festivals and processions. The processions that do continue are not simply continuations of tradition; they have...


      (pp. 133-151)
      Ju Hui Judy Han

      Contrary to its growing reputation as the most Protestant nation in Asia, South Korea has in fact maintained a remarkably long-lasting and peaceful multireligious social fabric without a dominant majority religion. According to the 2005 Korean Census, a slight majority of the national population (53.1 percent) identified themselves with a religious affiliation, and Buddhists (22.8 percent) nearly outnumbered the combined total of Protestants and Catholics (18.3 and 10.9 percent, respectively).¹ Religious historian Donald Baker indeed contends that South Korea “enjoys one of the most complex and diverse religious cultures on the face of the globe,” including “the largest network of...

    • 8 GOOD THOUGHTS, GOOD WORDS, AND GOOD (TRUST) DEEDS: Parsis, Risk, and Real Estate in Mumbai
      (pp. 152-167)
      Leilah Vevaina

      Real estate in Mumbai has been the subject of much scholarship since the 1990s as the shift to more liberal government policies accelerated the drive to develop and invest in this Indian megacity.¹ As in most other cities, these policies and their related implications did not map onto a simplifi ed supply-demand housing market but instead were unevenly laid over a host of overlapping and interlocking housing laws and spatial distributions. While managing a dizzying array of religious and regional diversity, city officials also have to grapple with these distributions, some of which date back to the colonial period. This...

      (pp. 168-185)
      Tiamsoon Sirisrisak

      Bangkok is one of the major cities in Southeast Asia and the center of Thailand in all aspects. Over the past several decades, it has been famous as a primate city, implying its importance and uniqueness in many ways. As Askew (1994) notes, if one wants to understand Thailand, one needs to understand Bangkok: the city is representative of the country.

      As “Bangkok is a city of immigrants” (Tiamsoon and Akagawa 2012b, 149), various groups there are mixed but not combined. The Chinese community, Thai society, and the Western community, including small groups of European and American diplomats, businesspeople, and...

    • 10 DEALING WITH THE DRAGON: Urban Planning in Hanoi
      (pp. 186-200)
      Tam T. T. Ngo

      Some years ago I dropped by a branch office of the Hanoi City Planning Bureau to visit a family friend who was employed there. What was on display in the office seemed to give some idea of what urban planning in Vietnam entails. Covering blackboards and desks were maps, charts, and sketches outlining and detailing the city’s morphology in black-inked lines and circles and trunks of different colors. The office workers, all male engineers and architects, explained that they were a part of a larger team that dealt with models and followed a strategy of spatial and functional specialization. They...

    • 11 CONTESTED RELIGIOUS SPACE IN JAKARTA: Negotiating Politics, Capital, and Ethnicity
      (pp. 201-218)
      Chang-Yau Hoon

      Religious pluralism has been lauded as a distinct feature of Indonesia. The Indonesian Constitution officially recognizes six religions, Islam, Christianity (Protestantism), Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, and upholds religious freedom by allowing “all persons the right to worship according to their own religion or belief.” According to the 2010 Census, approximately 87 percent of the population of 238 million are Muslims, 7 percent are Protestants, 3 percent are Catholics, 1.7 percent are Hindus, 0.72 percent are Buddhists, and 0.05 percent are Confucianists (Badan Pusat Statistik 2011). Indonesia’s diverse religious landscape is reflected in the nation’s capital, Jakarta—a metropolis of...

      (pp. 219-234)
      James Taylor

      I argue here that, secularization aside, there has of late been a definite resurgence of interest in sacred space in Bangkok. Furthermore, a postmodern viewpoint allows religiosity contextualized by cultural reenchantment, desecularization, and posttraditionalism to become more culturally visible and even more relevant, rather than remain in a more marginal position in modernity. Importantly, it can be seen that Bangkok embraces alternatives, marginality, and new religious articulations.

      Presently, Thai Buddhism, expressing wider social and cultural sentiments, is caught in the contradictions of history and tradition and is propelled not so much by a consciousness of the past or the Benjaminian...


    • 13 FROM VILLAGE TO CITY: Hinduism and the “Hindu Caste System”
      (pp. 237-253)
      Nathaniel Roberts

      To understand urban religion in India—indeed, to understand the city itself—one must understand the village, both as a reality and as it is imagined. Although “town” is everywhere contrasted to “country,” nowhere is the rural-urban contrast so heavily freighted with moral and existential signifi cance, or so deeply embedded in national consciousness, as here. Village India has been described as the “real” India (Dewey 1972; Inden 1990; Jodhka 2002), and the “traditional” village is valorized as a paradigm of social harmony, in which life was simple but none were hungry or in a state of perpetual want. The...

    • 14 THE POLITICS OF DESECULARIZATION: Christian Churches and North Korean Migrants in Seoul
      (pp. 254-272)
      Jin-Heon Jung

      This chapter provides both historical accounts of Korean Christianity and ethnographic vignettes of North Korean migrants’ conversion to Christianity to demonstrate how Seoul has undergone desecularization in response to a changing geopolitical climate and how a particular form of Christianity is experienced as it serves to promote, if not delimit, a modality of ideal liberal citizenship. I explore the ways in which religious revival, invention, and intervention have been intertwined in the processes of modernization and urbanization in Seoul and further elucidate the changing implications of the transformative capacity of Christianity (i.e., conversion) for self and society.

      In spite of...

    • 15 PARALLEL UNIVERSES: Chinese Temple Networks in Singapore, or What Is Missing in the Singapore Model?
      (pp. 273-296)
      Kenneth Dean

      Singapore is a kaleidoscopic space of shifting identities and evolving aspirations. These include the familiar aspiration of many primarily English-educated Chinese, Indian, and Malay Singaporeans for a life in the middle or upper middle class.¹ This involves pressure to work late, to have one’s children take many hours of tutorials beyond school, and to continuously “upgrade” oneself, one’s home, one’s CV, one’s clothes, and so forth. But there are other aspirations moving through Singapore, such as the desire to experience Christ in a personal way or to form a community of worship around a Buddhist master or to immerse oneself...


    • 16 THE FLEXIBILITY OF RELIGION: Buddhist Temples as Multiaspirational Sites in Contemporary Beijing
      (pp. 299-314)
      Gareth Fisher

      On a cold, wet day in late October 2002, I sat with Wang Yi in her cement-flooredhutongapartment. The municipal supply of heating had yet to be turned on for the season, so we sat bundled up in coats in Wang’s one small indoor room and drank warm tea while talking. I had first met her the previous week after she had made a spontaneous outburst in the outer courtyard of the Buddhist Temple of Universal Rescue (Guangji Si) during one of the temple’s dharma assemblies (fahui), at which I was conducting participant observation. In Wang’s outburst, which had...

    • 17 CULTIVATING HAPPINESS: Psychotherapy, Spirituality, and Well-Being in a Transforming Urban China
      (pp. 315-332)
      Li Zhang

      A new form of urban aspiration is emerging among China’s middle-class professionals in the midst of rapid and often disorienting socioeconomic transformations: namely, an intense interest in and fervent pursuit of personal happiness in the name of science and well-being. This “happiness craze” (xingfu re), which often calls for professional intervention, is taking place against the backdrop of a society that is increasingly competitive and distressed as unprecedented surges in material wealth are coupled with mounting social inequality and moral crisis. These changes are magnified in the cities, where competition for resources is fierce and palpable. Novel notions, mostly imported...

    • 18 OTHER CHRISTIANS AS CHRISTIAN OTHERS: Signs of New Christian Populations and the Urban Expansion of Seoul
      (pp. 333-350)
      Nicholas Harkness

      This chapter considers the role of semiotic differentiation, class, and denominationalism in the coterminous and interrelated social phenomena of the rapid postwar urbanization of Seoul and the rapid growth of Protestant Christianity in South Korea. I structure my account in terms of three religiously anchored views of the changing city. I argue that these views of the city manifest as perspectives on other Christians—or, in a sense, “Christian others,” those who claim one’s own Christian faith but appear alien or antithetical to it. Specifically, I link these views to worship styles that invoke, for Protestant Christians, other kinds of...

    • 19 ASPIRING IN KARACHI: Breathing Life into the City of Death
      (pp. 351-366)
      Noman Baig

      At 8:30 p.m. on October 5, 2012, sitting in a currency exchange shop, I opened theNew York Timeswebsite to read the latest news. The United States’ latest unemployment figure was the front-page headline. The data released by the U.S. government showed that in September 2012, the U.S. unemployment rate fell from 8.10 to 7.8 percent, with 114,000 jobs added to the economy. The figures came out just after the first U.S. presidential debate of that election season, in which Barack Obama had fared poorly against the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. I told the owner of the moneychanging...

    • 20 CAN COMMODITIES BE SACRED? Material Religion in Seoul and Hanoi
      (pp. 367-384)
      Laurel Kendall

      Cities are nodes of commerce; Seoul and Hanoi—like most of the cities considered in this volume—are nodes of global commerce. Cities are nodes of commerce, sometimes global in scope, for a variety of sacred goods. The fi rst statement is commonsense: the modern city emerged as a site of complex markets; it is all but impossible to disaggregate “city” from “market,” particularly when the history of Asia is being rewritten as a story of contact through trade (Andaya 2006; Duara 2010; Sen 2010). The second statement rubs against the grain of another assumption, extrapolated from a northern European...


    • 21 CINEMA AND KARACHI IN THE 1960S: Cultural Wounds and National Cohesion
      (pp. 387-402)
      Kamran Asdar Ali

      In Karachi, where I grew up, there is constant talk in my household and those of my middle-class friends of how in the 1950s our mothers and aunts would go to watch movies without chaperones. They would wear saris showing their bare midriffs, less and less visible in the contemporary public space, and walk without hesitation through the elegant streets of downtown Karachi. Zeenat Hassam, a journalist and author based in Karachi, similarly remembers her childhood in the early 1960s. She mentions how her mother would hand over the younger children to a sister and in the middle of the...

      (pp. 403-414)
      Arjun Appadurai

      Religious life in large Indian cities operates in many ways. Among these is the proliferation of small and large places of worship, the growth of new religious movements, emerging relations between political parties and religious groups, old and new tensions among religious communities and factions, and various forms of religious spectacle, performance, and celebration. These phenomena might be described as religious in a straightforward sense.

      Cinematic life in Mumbai is also religious in another sense, and this has to do with what we might call cinematic soteriology. By this I mean that Bollywood films represent the city as a site...

      (pp. 415-431)
      Patrick Eisenlohr

      This chapter analyzes the intertwining of urban aspirations that drive migration to the megacity with religious media practices. Recent work on the anthropology of religion has emphasized the global dimensions of media-sustained religious activism (e.g., Robbins 2009). Against the backdrop of a global megacity, contemporary Twelver Shi‘ite religious activism in Mumbai provides evidence of the importance of global processes of religious mobilization. I draw attention here to the parallels between the motivations behind newer media practices and the aspirational links between globalization and the spread of major religious traditions that emphasize the theme of transcendence. While there is a large...

    • 24 INTERNET HINDUS: Right-Wingers as New India’s Ideological Warriors
      (pp. 432-450)
      Sahana Udupa

      “I hope you are not researching the so-called Internet Hindus,” an upcoming politician in Mumbai said to me, almost as a caution. “A correspondent fromAl Jazeerahad come here to do exactly this. What a ridiculous project! How can you dub someone an Internet Hindu, and with such a casual charge of criminality?” I stared at my notepad, trying to see reason in his argument. “See the energy of the youth here? Do you think it is just Internet Hindu, whatever that means?” he asked, pointing to a large audience of more than a thousand youth gathered for a...

  10. List of Contributors
    (pp. 451-456)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 457-474)