AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 718

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Session 718: Asian Women and Their Representations in the Global Religious Supermarket

Organizer: Khun Eng Kuah-Pearce, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Chair: Selina Ching Chan, Independent Scholar, Hong Kong

Discussant: Arthur Kleinman, Harvard University, USA

As we moved deeper into the 21st century, we witnessed rapid changes in all areas of life. Religion is not immune to it. Along with globalization, we are witnessing an emergence of a global religious supermarket where religion experienced various processes including individualization, commodification, renewed spiritualism as well as iconoclasm. Religion moves to and from communalism and localism to globalism where it now increasingly cuts across global spaces, ethnic spaces, socio-economic spaces and political spaces. Yet at the same time, we are also witnessing reformulation to suit ethnic sentiments and local needs where the local and global religious life often come in sharp contrast on the one hand and yet reaching out in blurred into a common entity on the other. In witnessing all these religious trends that appear in the globalised world, women are increasingly playing a dominant role. In this globalised religious supermarket, we are witnessing women’s ability to come to term with their gender identity and pushed for new frontier in the religious sphere. Whether women assumed leadership role, or as a member of a religious community or are used as part of the textual iconography, women become powerful symbols within the global religious spheres. In all these, they are making important statements of their status and identity within the Anthropology of Religion and Gender Studies. The papers in this panel elaborate and speak to these theoretical issues using empirical data to substantiate such claims.

Woman manager in a Taoist Temple in China
Selina Ching Chan, Independent Scholar, Hong Kong

This paper examines how a Taiwanese woman entrepreneur develops and promotes a local Taoist temple in Jinhua, China. The promotion of this temple embodies the development of Chinese modernity in a rural place through several ways. Firstly, the establishment of this temple is a result of transnational connections with overseas Chinese. Secondly, the temple has been marketed as a site of leisure for domestic tourists to engage in sightseeing and spiritual pursuits. Thirdly, the temple is designed as a site for various consumeristic activities, including BBQ, resort hotel, teahouse, etc. Fourthly, the temple manager promotes environmentally friendly measures in traditional religious activities and also introduces specialization for priests.

Carving a niche in Buddhist Philanthropy: Chinese women and transnational religious volunteerism
Khun Eng Kuah-Pearce, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

The emergence of socially-engaged Buddhism in the last few decades have brought about a myriad of activities from various Buddhist organizations that have now become global entities. Starting with the work of the Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation, women are becoming increasing involved in volunteerism in their quest for spiritualism. The fact that socially-engaged Buddhism focused on this-worldly asceticism and this-worldly attainment of nirvana has prompted many housewives and professional women to become increasingly involved in Buddhist charity and philanthropy. This paper will explore the dynamics that are involved in the creation of a Buddhist philanthropic niche by these women, the types of activities they are involved in and how they redefine socially-engaged Buddhism in modernity.

From Divine Status to Ayuverdic Commodification: Indian women in a globalised religious supermarket
Md. Nazrul Islam, , China

Within the Hindu text of Chakra, women are represented variously that points to a divine origin. This divine status has undergone various stages of transformation as a result of the development of of Hindu medicine (ayurveda) and today, Indian women’s status has become a contentious issue in the arena of 'medical secularism', 'gender secularism' and 'religious secularism'. Many scholars contended that ayurveda is a part of Hindu culture and regard ayurveda as Hindu medicine developed by the Vedic community who are the follower of Hinduism. This paper looks at how women have been represented and involved in the practice and development of the Hindu medicine in different era. It argues that, although women’s health has been presented in the classical Hindu medical texts as to human reproduction, modern ayurvedic companies problematically redefine women’s health as beauty concern. With emphasizing the natural content of ayurveda, pharmaceutical companies targeted women as potential consumer and represent a gendered approach through associating women’s body with nature. This paper concludes that, religious aspect of Hindu medicine and its relation with women has been transformed paradoxically in the process of commodification today.

In search of their rightful place within the Islamic Culture in Singapore: Muslim Girls and the Madrasah Schools
Jason E. T. Tan, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

The image of the docility of Muslim girls has captured the world inside out. Scholars and media have cried out loud over the oppression of the Muslim women throughout the world. The paper will examine that, to the contrary view of the excessive exploitative images of these women, within the Muslim community within Singapore, girls are treated with a measure of equality and dignity. Apart from the state policies, education policies are also significant in leveling the playing field for the Muslim girls. This paper will examine the operation of the Madrasah schools and how the Muslim girls search for their rightful place within the Islamic culture in the Singapore environment.