Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Institut für Europäische Ethnologie

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Institut für Europäische Ethnologie | Forschung | Abgeschlossene Forschungsprojekte | Religion, Media and Materiality: Spiritual Economies in Southeast Asia

Forschungsprojekt „Religion, Media and Materiality“

Spiritual Economies in Southeast Asia
Förderlaufzeit: ab September 2015
Förderinstitution: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)


In the last decades, religion once again assumed a significant role in world affairs and has in fact been thriving on a global level. Particularly in a booming Asian capitalism, religious practices play an increasing role in people’s everyday lives. In the communication with gods, spirits, and ancestors, new technologies are gaining in importance, especially when it comes to electronic and digital media. Moreover, the relationship between religion and media is shaped by the agency of humans, material objects, and nonhuman entities, which are all part of the interaction between this world and the otherworld.

The research project explores communicative practices between the living and the dead in Southeast Asia from a cross-cultural perspective by focusing on (post-) socialist Vietnam. In today’s Vietnam, trance mediums and technical media, whose agency is embedded in political and economic processes, are part of religious practices in a rapidly transforming society on its way into a socialist market economy. As offerings, particularly votive paper objects are part of many rituals and are donated to ancestors, deities, and spirits, the cultural logic of the production, trade, and burning of these material objects is a key concern of the research project. In their role as intermediaries between this world and the other world, between immanence and transcendence, votive paper offerings represent crucial aspects of reciprocity between agents in different worlds. Furthermore, they inform us about circulation and mobility and about the mediation and transfer of religious messages and practices. Finally, they represent an alternative economic logic, one that is subversive to capitalist and market-socialist principles.