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Engaging the Spirit World: Popular Beliefs and Practices in Modern Southeast Asia

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Volume 5

Asian Anthropologies

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Engaging the Spirit World

Popular Beliefs and Practices in Modern Southeast Asia

Edited by Kirsten W. Endres and Andrea Lauser

238 pages, 19 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-0-85745-358-7 $135.00/£99.00 Hb Published (March 2012)

eISBN 978-0-85745-359-4 eBook

Hb View cartYour country: United States - Click here to remove geolocation   Buy the eBook! $29.95 Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


This rich, articulate volume builds on and extends earlier explorations of the intricate connections between popular religious practices and modernity in the region. It offers fascinating insights into the diverse and endlessly creative transformations of Southeast Asian spirit worlds in the late 1990s and 2000s – a period of capitalist growth and widening affluence but also great social, political, and economic instability.  ·  Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“…a great volume that represents a remarkable contribution to the anthropological debate on ‘popular religion’ in contemporary Southeast Asia.”  ·  Anthropos

“…the editors have carefully selected papers that not only present engrossing ethnographic reports but also show theoretical sophistication. We are treated to explorations of theoretical issues spanning from materiality and ontology to an anthropological critique of modernity and rationality…Overall, this volume as a whole has presented a highly spirited argument against the modernity-secularization thesis. Insights have been provided to under-explored issues in anthropological studies…This has been an enlightening read. ·  Asian Anthropologist


In many parts of the contemporary world, spirit beliefs and practices have taken on a pivotal role in addressing the discontinuities and uncertainties of modern life. The myriad ways in which devotees engage the spirit world show the tremendous creative potential of these practices and their innate adaptability to changing times and circumstances. Through in-depth anthropological case studies from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, the contributors to this book investigate the role and impact of different social, political, and economic dynamics in the reconfiguration of local spirit worlds in modern Southeast Asia. Their findings contribute to the re-enchantment debate by revealing that the “spirited modernities” that have emerged in the process not only embody a distinct feature of the contemporary moment, but also invite a critical rethinking of the concept of modernity itself.

Kirsten W. Endres is a Senior Research Fellow and Head of Research Group at Department II, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle/Saale. Her monograph, Performing the Divine: Mediums, Markets and Modernity in Urban Vietnam (2011), examines the flourishing of urban spirit mediumship as part of the recent revival of popular religion in Vietnam.

Andrea Lauser is Professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Georg-August-University, Göttingen, Germany. She is a member of and lecturer in a new area studies network “Dynamics of Religion in Southeast-Asia,” composed of the Southeast Asia departments of Hamburg, Berlin, Muenster, Heidelberg and Göttingen, and funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Subject: Anthropology (General) Anthropology of Religion
Area: Asia-Pacific


List of Illustrations


Introduction: Multivocal Arenas of Modern Enchantment in Southeast Asia
Kirsten W. Endres and Andrea Lauser

Chapter 1. Can things reach the dead? The Ontological Status of Objects and the Study of Lao Buddhist Rituals for the Spirits of the Deceased
Patrice Ladwig

Chapter 2. Spirited Warriors: Conspiracy and Protection on Lombok
Kari Telle

Chapter 3. From the Mystical to the Molecular: Modernity, Martial Arts and Agency in Java
Lee Wilson

Chapter 4. Changing spirits’ Identities? Rethinking the Four Palaces’ Spirit Representations in the Context of Social and Political Changes in Northern Vietnam
Claire Chauvet

Chapter 5. Gods, Gifts, Markets, and Superstition: Spirited Consumption from Korea to Vietnam
Laurel Kendall

Chapter 6. Contests of Commemoration: Virgin War Martyrs, State Memorials, and the Invocation of the Spirit World in Contemporary Vietnam
Kirsten W. Endres and Andrea Lauser

Chapter 7. Trans-ethnic Cosmologies that Won’t Go Away: Keramat Symbolisms in Malaysian Capitalist Sacralization
Beng-Lan Goh

Chapter 8. Being a Spirit Medium in Contemporary Burma
Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière

Chapter 9. Reconfigurations of the Manora Ancestral Worship and Spirit Possession in Southern Thailand
Alexander Horstmann

Chapter 10. The Horror of the Modern: Violation, Violence, and the Rampage of Urban Youths in the Contemporary Thai Ghost Films
Pattana Kitiarsa

Notes on Contributors

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