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FH Distinguished Lecture Series - The transmission of Chinese civilizational techniques to Southeast Asia: Daoist rites, spirit possession, networking, and hybrid ritual forms

by Professor Kenneth Dean, Raffles Professor of Humanities and Head, Chinese Studies Department
Research Leader, Religion and Globalization, Asia Research Institute

Date                 19 June 2018
Time                 2:30pm-4:00pm
Venue               M1603
The talk will be conducted in English.

Mauss pointed out that civilizational techniques includes techniques of the body (self-cultivation and spirit possession). Rituals are machines for the manipulation of time and space. This paper traces a range of civilizational technologies brought by Chinese sojourners and migrants to Southeast Asia. These include networking between temples, common surname groups, and regional associations - these techniques have led to new and surprising network effects. Daoist ritual techniques were spread to Southeast Asia by different regional Daoist ritual masters, but also by sectarian groups such as Xiantianjiao and Yiguandao. The latter mixed in modes of modern management with Daoist ritual elements. Spirit possession is widespread around Southeast Asia, and remains central to much of Chinese religious expression in that area, as in many parts of China. The paper concludes by examining hybrid ritual spaces/processes that have developed in Southeast Asia.

About the speaker
Kenneth Dean is Raffles Professor of Humanities, Head of the Department of Chinese Studies and Research Cluster Leader for Religion and Globalisation at the Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore. Professor Dean is the author of several books on Daoism, Chinese popular religion, and the social history of Chinese temple networks in Southeast Asia; he is also the director of the documentary film Bored in Heaven (2010), which is on ritual celebrations in Putian, Fujian. His current research projects concern the transnational networks that link Southeast China to Southeast Asia, with special focus on the community and daily life surrounding the Chinese temples in Singapore. He has launched the Singapore Historical GIS website (, which accommodates several digitization projects of the history and culture of the Chinese community in Singapore.

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