P62. Scale-Making in Transnational Religious Movements

Session: Session 9, 10:15 – 11:45 am, Sunday 10/1

Category: Organized Panel

Location: Illinois Ballroom A

Chair: Sara Loo (University of Chicago)

Paper Presenters: Sara Loo (University of Chicago), Yongxin Mo (University of Chicago), Preetha Swaminathan (University of Chicago)

Abstract: The study of transnational religions is often tied intimately to movements across space and place. In this case, scale and scale-making are important to how both religion and space and place are ideologically (re)imagined and represented. Following Anna Tsing’s call for scale as an object of analysis, this panel (“Scale-Making in Transnational Religious Movements”) explores different meanings of scale and scale-making in sites that reveal multi-directional connections between Asia and the West: “How are people, cultures, and things remade as they travel?” (Tsing 2000, 346-347). This panel examines the transnational reach of various religious traditions, from Christianity in Chicagoland Tamil-Christian churches to the translation of Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama’s ideas as ‘humanitarian Islam’ in the United States to Western magical practices in Contemporary China. Our papers cover themes including diasporic nationalism and personhood, cultural politics of humanitarianism, and spiritual marketplaces and ritual economy. We consider the following questions in our panel: how are religious beliefs transmitted and translated across space and time? How do these transmissions and translations of beliefs manifest in actions?

Imagining Global Islam: Indonesia, America, and ‘Humanitarian’ Islam

Speaker: Sara Loo
Role: Chair, Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Chicago
Abstract: The largest Islamic organization in Indonesia and by some measures the world, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), has been globalizing its brand of tolerant Islam since the early 2000s. These efforts have been facilitated through NU leaders and North Carolina native Holland Taylor setting up several NGOs in North Carolina. While the term that has become familiar to the masses in Indonesia is ‘Islam Nusantara’ (archipelagic Islam), a form of adaptation to practices in the archipelago, what these NGOs use in the United States is ‘humanitarian Islam’. Unlike most NGOs in the humanitarian space, Bayt ar-Rahmah does not provide material aid in the form of financial assistance or social services, but is a religious NGO committed to restoring rahmah (universal love and compassion) as the primary message of Islam via forums, working groups, and agreements among leaders of religious organizations including the President of the Nation’s Mosque (part of the Imam W Deen Mohammed community) and the leader of the World Evangelical Alliance. How do actors across stages of this translation – from those part of NU in Indonesia, to those who found the NGO, to Muslim communities in the United States working with the NGO engage with notions of ‘Islam Nusantara’/ ‘humanitarian Islam’? Through fieldwork in Indonesia and across Imam W Deen Mohammed community mosques in the US, I examine processes of scale-making for different stakeholders.

The Spiritual Marketplace in Contemporary China

Speaker: Yongxin Mo
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Chicago
Abstract: The introduction of tarot and other Western magical practices into China resulted from accelerated globalization and modernization in China in the 1990s.  In this case, many esoteric traditions and practices in China followed the so-called “New Age Movements” ideologies in the English-speaking world in the 1960s-1970s, when some of them had already been entangled with Eastern practices. These practices with Western origins are under the category of Occultism shenmixue. In China, all forms of divinations (including tarot and other Chinese traditions) are condemned to be superstitious, thus are banned. But the spiritual marketplace, which contains services such as divinations and magical rituals still exist. In the spiritual marketplace in China, the practitioners of Western magic follow certain economic rules, and the sellers (divinors, magicians, etc) try their best to maximize their monetary profits by understanding the demand of their customers. At the same time, their economic activities are regulated by politics and spiritual forces. In this case, the practitioners in the Chinese spiritual marketplace behave with limited autonomy and agency.

Foundations and Fissures: Processes of Differentiation in the Chicagoland Tamil-Christian Diaspora

Speaker: Preetha Swaminathan
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Chicago
Abstract: The founding of the Chicago Tamil Church (CTC) in 1997 introduced a site for diasporic Chicagoland Tamil-Christians to gather and engage in processes of cultural and religious recreation. However, since its founding, CTC has seen three splits—in 2002, 2007, and 2015—resulting in the formation of three separate Tamil-Christian churches. These splits fall on denominational, administrative, and ritualized boundaries, and ultimately mark each church as Tamil-Christian (or Tamil and Christian) in explicitly differentiated ways. Drawing on historical accounts of the churches’ foundations/splits, interviews with CTC congregation members, and observations of recorded Sunday services across churches, I ask how it is that that Chicagoland diasporic Tamil-Christian churches understand themselves as differentiated from one another and how they perform those processes of differentiation, ultimately scaling themselves against each other in (re)creating what it is to be a (diasporic) Tamil-Christian church or person. I situate the analyses of these churches and how they differentiate themselves as particularly Tamil-and-Christian with both their relationships to and imaginings of Tamil Nadu and the United States.