In contemporary Southeast Asia the fields of religious practice and adherence present the apparent paradox of a parallel efflorescence of radically opposing trends. Syncretistic, ritual-based magic and spirit mediumship are flourishing in many localities, while anti-supernatural doctrinal accounts of Buddhism and Islam are also influential in the societies in which these respective religions are influential. Despite claims by some of their respective proponents to adhere to historical tradition, these contrasting trends are both intimately associated with the modern world of commodified, market-based media and scientific technologies. Reflecting on a range of studies of post-Cold War religious expression, I present initial hypotheses on how orthopractic ritual and syncretism, on the one hand, and doctrinally orthodox fundamentalism, on the other, both emerge from the same matrix of techno-scientific, capitalist modernity. I argue that 20th century social theory fails to account for contemporary forms of religious expression and that contemporary religious diversification in Southeast Asia reflects a broader cultural logic of paradox and polarisation pervading early 21st century global modernity. I consider the diverse impacts of neoliberal capitalism, mass media and modernising state power as concrete forces underpinning religious efflorescence and divergence in both magical and fundamentalist directions. I conclude that in developing frameworks of analysis that adequately account for the multiple directions of religious change visible in this century we need “to be cognizant of the complexity of the world, to be accountable to its paradoxes”(Comaroff & Kim 2011, 176).
Download this paper: DORISEA Working Paper 6 – Peter Jackson -FINAL