When the Eternal Meets the Imperishable: Plastics and Religion in Contemporary Asia

Buddhist temple in Penang, Malaysia

The Centre for Contemporary Buddhist Studies at the University of Copenhagen invites you to join this online panel.  

30 March at 22:00 (Los Angeles)
31 March at 7.00  (Copenhagen)
31 March at 13.00 (Hong Kong)

Zoom - register here to receive Zoom link


Asia is one of the biggest producers and importers of plastics and plastic waste. As in other parts of the world, Asian nations are often overwhelmed by cheap plastic products that are designed for single use, but whose materiality will outlast the consumer. Although the benefits of plastics as a super-material are often extolled, plastics present particular ambiguities. Largely unable to biodegrade, they photodegrade fractiously, separating into ever smaller particles. Lauded as impervious to microbial contamination, they off-gas and absorb environmental contaminants. Frequently imagined as infinitely suitable and adaptable, they are often unable to be remoulded or repurposed.

This panel will explore how the incorporation of plastics into the sacred disrupts our everyday relationships with this now ubiquitous material. It will explore the imagined and material qualities of plastics as they are present in Asian religions and ideologies. In their ability to replicate novel forms, plastic-based items offer themselves as cheap, available and ready for use in religious rituals. Though frequently imagined as insubstantial (in spite of their lingering material qualities), plastics are often used to materialise the sacred, giving form to religious and political icons and replicating/becoming key objects needed to carry out rituals. How do these materials challenge our relationships with plastics and the sacred? Comparatively we seek to understand whether plastics are invisible or disruptive, and if and how they change the nature of religious rituals, the form of relationships with the divine, and the accessibility of ritual practice in Asian religions and belief systems.


  • Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa (Occidental College): The Ambivalence of Plastic Pollution in Himalayan Buddhist Material Cultures
  • Ka Ming Wu (The Chinese University of Hong Kong): Plastic during Mao's China: Preserving the Revolutionary Sublime
  • Trine Brox (University of Copenhagen): Plastic Skinscapes in Tibetan Buddhism
  • Tridibesh Dey (University of Exeter): Plasticity and Religion: Reflexions on What 'Sticks'

Moderator and discussant: Saskia Adelle Abrahms-Kavunenko (University of Copenhagen)