AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 130

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Session 130: Religious Expansion across Asian Borders: Networks and Mediations

Organizer: Geoff Wade, , Australia

A key research project of the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre in Singapore is the ‘Comparative Study of Religious Networks in Asia’. This seeks to place the remarkable role of Buddhism as a pan-Asian but highly plural system of meanings and interactions, in the context of other religious expansions and networks in Asia. Both the highly contested issue of “Indianisation” of Southeast Asia, and the colonially-weighted discourse about the spread of Islam and Christianity into Asia will be viewed from a broader context of the possibilities of cross-cultural religious networks and meanings. We hope this panel will help both to define the parameters of the project, and to build an international network of scholars interested in it.

Religion, Trade and State: Vaishnavism in Early Historic Southeast Asia
Pierre-Yves Manguin, Ecole Francaise d Extreme-Orient, France

Archaeological finds in sites pertaining to most newly Indianised polities of Southeast Asia, between the 4th and the 7th century EC, clearly indicate that the dominant divinity was Vishnu. Representations of the god himself or of associated divinities are far more numerous and the epigraphic record confirms that Vaishnavism – in a sectarian, devotional form – was then a central concern for local rulers. In this presentation, we will show how these cultural developments follow contemporary evolutions in India, and how they must be considered, in parallel with Buddhism, as primary factors in the Indianisation process Southeast Asia, in the religious, economic and political spheres.

Early Islam in Southern India, Southeast Asia, and Southern China: Interactions and Networks to 1500
Geoff Wade, , Australia

There is little doubt that the spread of Islam to Southern India, Southeast Asia and Southern China was intimately tied with maritime trade, and the routes along which this trade passed. When and how the religion took root in the respective areas, however, and the ways in which the Islamic communities which were established interacted remain issues of continuing research. What were the relations between trade and jihad in the spread of Islam to Southeast Asia? Were there khutba networks as described by Elizabeth Lambourn for Western Indian Ocean Islamic communities? What other factors were involved in both the establishment of and linkages between Islamic communities of these three regions? This presentation will explore this huge topic from the limited range of historical materials available to us over the period c. 800-1500.

Christian Networks in and of Asia: Some preliminary observations
Anthony J. Reid, Australian National University, Australia

The critical anomaly of the Christian spread in Asia was the interruption in this contact between the rise of Islam in the 7th century and the establishment of a secure maritime route around Africa in the 16th. The more ‘natural’ and piecemeal expansion eastwards was almost halted under Islamic rule, and the churches that had been established in Malabar, Ethiopia and elsewhere had little further contact with reforms in the rest of Christendom. The resumption of contact in the 16th Century was with a form of Christianity that was clerical, monastic, and politically attuned to the aims of Portuguese and Spanish crowns. This disciplined clericalism meant that Christianity could not provide to Asian kings the charisma that Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam had brought them. Sacred knowledge and power was too tightly controlled by a celibate clergy, and moreover one that was culturally remote from Asia in its first stage. Hence the major Christian gains were among stateless peoples and the lower orders of monarchies (with the remarkable exception of several Kyushu daimyos in Japan). Nevertheless Asian Christian networks were eventually established, of essentially two kinds. The Iberians and others who cooperated with the Spanish and Portuguese padroado built their networks out of Manila and Goa, extending effectively into Japan, China, Vietnam and eastern Indonesia. The French Société des Missions Etrangères after 1660 had to operate wholly without state protection. Ayutthaya (Siam) was their first base in Asia, from where they began to train priests from a great range of Asian societies. This state-free network will be one of the foci of the paper.

National Identity, Pan-Asianism and Theravada Buddhist Monastic Networks
Thomas A. Borchert, University of Vermont, USA

Scholars have long had difficulty trying to categorize Buddhism. There have been two kinds of problems to this. First, while there have clearly been phenomena that we now call Buddhism for over two millennia, and some Buddhists were in conversation with other Buddhists, there is nonetheless compelling evidence that the religion of “Buddhism” arose in conversations between scholars, colonizers and Asian practitioners in the middle of the nineteenth century. Second, while scholars know that there are problems with the tripartite division of Buddhism into Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana, because scholars tend to specialize in the Buddhism of one region, and because most national Sanghas map onto one of these communities, there is a tendency to reinscribe these categories in our scholarship. I want to suggest however that it is necessary to see the imagination of Buddhism in much more flexible ways. By examining Theravada Buddhist networks in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it is possible to see that Buddhists imagine their religion in local, national and universal ways.