21 February 2011
New ADI Professor
Oscar Salemink, Professor in the Anthropology of Asia, Dept. of Anthropology
Since the late 1980s my research takes place mostly in Southeast Asia, in particular in Vietnam, although I have done archival and oral history research in the U.S., France and the U.K. as well. My doctoral dissertation research focused on the ethnohistory of the Central Highlander minorities in Vietnam. Subsequent research concerned development policies, human security, religious practices and the politics of cultural heritage. I have published on processes of ethnic identification and classification; the history of anthropology; development and civil society; human security and human rights; cultural heritage; and religious and ritual transformations.
At present I explore forms of (re)enchantment and sacralization in contemporary Vietnam, looking at ways in which religious and ritual traditions assume novel forms by sacralizing and ritualizing economic and political practice in the context of market and state integration. In particular, I explore how religious traditions and ritual processes (pilgrimage, festivals, spirit possession, state rituals) that are usually studied as discrete phenomena borrow from and influence one another when studied as everyday human practice rather than institutionally or theologically. In everyday life, practices commonly glossed as religious are intimately linked with practices considered to discursively and institutionally belong to different - economic or political - domains. Existential anxieties are increasingly linked up with market uncertainties and articulated through transactional forms derived from the market paradigm. Similarly, political risks are mitigated through ritualized action. My research shows that economic, political and religious practice - usually construed as separate societal categories - are guided by similar notions of the sacred or sacralization, thus providing a vista of social and cultural life under a series of overlapping ‘sacred canopies'.