Workshop on Religious Commodifications in Asia: The Re-Enchantment of Globalizing World?

This workshop aims to explore complex and diverse intersections between religious practices and global capitalist forces in Asian contexts.

Religious commodification or the intersection between certain religious traditions and market economy is nothing new, nor of recent origin. It has long been a notable phenomenon which students of religions have observed worldwide. Some classical theorists argue that with the rise of modern capitalism and more rationalized organization of social life, religious influences should be in decline. However, studies by contemporary sociologists and anthropologists in the past few decades have indicated otherwise. Traditional as well as newly-emerged religious practices have not only survived the penetration of market economy, but also been able to produce some meaningful forms and messages of rituals and beliefs to modern and postmodern life.

Taking experiences of East and Southeast Asian countries, one could argue that wherever capitalism grows as modes of modern production and consumption, religion also flourishes. The rapid industrialization in post-Second World War Japan gave birth to phenomenal new religious movements, where everyday life frustration and tension were met with promises of religious messiahs and magical practices. In newly industrialized countries like Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea, the revivals of traditional as well as new religious practices are also intensively reported, especially in the 1980s and 1990s.

Considering rapid socioeconomic and cultural changes in the region in the past few decades, it is imperative to investigate and compare forms, processes, tensions, and implications of religious commoditizations across Asia's major religious traditions, i.e., Chinese religious traditions, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam.

This workshop aims to explore complex and diverse intersections between religious practices and global capitalist forces in Asian contexts. It plans to bring together international scholars working on Asian religions to discuss and explore the �big picture� of religious commoditization in this region. How have �world-historic religions� (e.g., Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam) and other living religious traditions (e.g., Chinese and other indigenous spirit cults) adjusted themselves to cope with the onslaughts of late capitalist, market-oriented economy? To what extent has transnational capitalism in various forms and at different levels altered and reshaped the Asian religious landscapes? What has global capitalism done to Asian religious traditions? What are the social processes and contexts leading to the emergence of �prosperity religions�? What are the responses from local and transnational religious communities to the evasive intrusion of commoditization? What are the emerging voices, identities, or other complications out of a selection of prosperity religions in Asia? How do traditional religious traditions as well as premodern magic and superstition persist and survive the onslaught of modernization and globalization forces?

The workshop intends to revisit and reexamine the influential roles of religious traditions and their convergences with complex mundane forces in contemporary Asia, where rapid economic growth and radical sociocultural transformations have manifested in the past few decades. In his ground-breaking edited volume, �Religions and the Transformations of Capitalism: Comparative Approaches,� Richard Roberts (1995:2) argues that since the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the arrival of forceful transnational market economy, ��there is a mutual and dynamic relation between religions and economic processes�� These processes have given birth to what he calls �prosperity religion,� which Jackson (1999:246) defines in the context of Thai popular religion as �popular movements that emphasize wealth acquisition as much as salvation.� It tends to link ��an array of spiritually significant meanings to the prevailing consumerism of the period� (Ibid.).

The workshop�s key objectives are outlined as follows:

1. To address Asia�s prosperity religions and religious commoditization from cross-disciplinary perspectives;
2. To explore some possible post-Durkheimian, post-Weberian sociological and some other up-to-date theoretical explanations to the religious convergences as social processes in Asia�s diverse contexts;
3. To discuss some effective research methodologies in understanding the region�s changing religious landscapes;


The workshop intends to explore a wide range of prosperity religion and commodifications as practiced within Asia�s diverse and rich religious traditions. Following topics are encouraged for the paper presentation and discussion during the workshop.

1. The commercialization of Buddhism and its implications
2. Islam and its responses to the world market economy
3. Christianity and the marketized faiths
4. On the subject of Chinese vegetarian festivals
5. Cases of other emerging prosperity religions and cults
6. Religious celebrities
7. Religious publications and publishing business
8. Religious fetish objects and goods
9. Religious aspects of lottery and other forms of gambling
10. Amulet industry and its networks on the cyber space

Theme for Keynote Address

Religious commoditizations in the late global capitalist junctures;
Rethinking the intersection between the religious and the market forces and its implications: some theoretical and empirical considerations

For enquiries, please contact:
Bryan Turner ([email protected])
Vineeta Sinha ([email protected])
Pattana Kitiarsa ([email protected])

Ms Valerie Yeo ([email protected] )
Asia Research Institute
National University of Singapore
AS7, Level 4, 5 Arts Link
Singapore 117570
Tel: (65) 6874 5279
Fax: (65) 6779 1428

References Cited
Jackson, Peter A. �Royal Spirits, Chinese Gods, and Magic Monks: Thailand�s Boom-Time Religions of Prosperity.� South East Asia Research. 7, 3 (November 1999):245-320.

Roberts, Richard H., ed. Religion and the Transformations of Capitalism: Comparative Apporaches. London: Routledge, 1995.

From 24 Nov 2005
Until 25 Nov 2005
News topics: