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Organizer and Chair: Cornelia Ann Kammerer, Brandeis University
Discussant: Rita Smith Kipp, Kenyon College
The gendered dimensions of religious change in mainland and insular Southeast Asia and among Southeast Asians of the global diaspora are the focus of this panel. Based upon research in Southeast Asia and the United States, the papers explore the intersection of gender, religion, and social change from historical, cultural, psychological, and political-economic perspectives. From the colonial period to the present, Lorraine Aragon looks at the ways Salvation Army Protestantism in Sulawesi has shaped the local gender system and, in turn, been shaped by it. In a comparative study of Protestantism and Catholicism among Akha highlanders of Northern Thailand, Nina Kammerer investigates the divergent transformations in the traditional gendered cosmology and role of women. Taking a life history approach, Nancy Smith-Hefner examines one Cambodian refugee womans religious trajectory as she navigates her identity and engages with the Khmer trance tradition in response to trauma she experiences in her new homeland. Michael Peletz explores state efforts to criminalize the previously sacred role of gender crossers among Malays. To bring the audience into the worlds being analyzed, two presenters will show slides keyed to their talks. To increase the intertextuality of our presentations, we will distribute our papers amongst ourselves in advance of the conference. To enrich the interchange between panel and audience, our discussant, Rita Kipp, will distribute a series of questions crosscutting the papers to audience members as they enter. After she presents her own brief commentary, these questions will help guide the discussion.
Making a Male God and Female Careers: The Salvation Army and Gender in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia
Lorraine V. Aragon, East Carolina University
Salvation Army missionaries played an integral role in early twentieth-century Dutch colonial efforts to reorganize indigenous domestic life and religious practices in western Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. Local spiritual entities that had been innumerable and usually of unspecified gender were declared to be singular (or dual, if counting Jesus) and definitively male. European Protestant missionaries partly succeeded in their attempts to alter marriage patterns, household relations, and naming practices according to an idealized European model. While these transformations by the mission and colonial state might be said to generally undermine aspects of the indigenous status of women, the Salvation Army subsequently created a novel set of career opportunities that specifically favored women. Young girls no longer were destined exclusively to become dry rice farmers and mothers but some could aspire to be educated and trained as hospital aides, nurses, teachers, or even ministersthat is, Salvation Army officer wives. In this analysis of twentieth-century data from the Kulawi District of Central Sulawesi, I explore the uneven trajectory of changing gender statuses and the interaction of indigenous gender ideology and practices with Salvation Army missionization.
Abstemious Protestants and Swinging Catholics: The Differential Impact of Christianity on the Traditional Gender System of Akha Highlanders of Thailand
Cornelia Ann Kammerer, Brandeis University
Since the early 20th century, Akha highlanders of mainland Southeast Asia have been proselytized by Western Protestant and Catholic missionaries. Based on fieldwork in Northern Thailand among both traditionalist and Christian Akha, this paper explores the ways the adoption of these forms of Christianity has differentially affected the traditional gender system, in which males and females are cosmologically complementary. Traditionally, gender, religion, and kinship interlock in a calendrical cycle with gendered rituals for ancestors and rice. The primacy of men in the patrilineal kinship system is tempered by womens symbolic link to the fertility of fields and families and by the importance of married female ritual specialists. Among both Akha Protestants and Catholics, the traditional gender system has been influenced not only by Christian teachings and practices, but also by the models of gender relations presented by missionaries themselves. For Protestants, the traditional cosmological and ritual roles of women, all of which were bound to rice and rice liquor, are completely undercut, yet the missionaries, with their marital partnerships, have introduced a new model of the relationship between husband and wife and of female leadership. For Catholics, the traditional Womens New Year, an annual ritual for ancestors in which women swing, has been superimposed on Marys Ascension and other traditional gendered rituals have also been retained in modified form. Yet the model of the male Catholic priest, as opposed to the married Protestant helpmates, supports dimensions of traditional everyday life, in which women are secondary to men.
Negotiating Worlds: Gender and Spirit Mediumship in Khmer Refugee Experience
Nancy Smith-Hefner, University of Massachusetts, Boston
Having lost her parents and siblings to the Khmer Rouge, in 1988 Kim Chan fled to Thailand and the United States. She eventually settled in Boston with her husband and children and began working long hours as a cook in a French-Cambodian restaurant. Jealous of her male co-workers, her husband started physically abusing her in 1992, leaving her with black eyes, multiple bruises, and a broken arm and collarbone. In 1994, her husband proposed bringing a second wife and her four children to live in their apartment. Soon thereafter, the spirit of Jaya Varman the Seventh came to Chan in a dream. The spirit told her that if she allowed him to enter her body, he could drive her husband from the house. Over the next months, Kim became a popular spirit medium in the Boston Khmer community. This paper explores the interaction between somatic and psychocultural processes in Kim Chans experience of spirit possession. It considers the ways Khmer women use cultural motifs of possession to deal with disorder and violence in their lives. It also examines the interplay of Buddhist themes of suffering and karmic retribution with spiritual release and community recognition.
Gender Crossing and State Law in Contemporary Malaysia
Michael Peletz, Colgate University
This paper examines Malay gender crossing and is primarily concerned with pondan, which refers to a range of (usually male) behavior and individuals, including men who dress like women or act like women in other ways. Malays and Southeast Asians as a whole have long displayed a relatively positive attitude toward such phenomena, but the past decade has seen efforts by Islamic reformers and state officials to criminalize gender crossing. These efforts are profitably viewed as components of politico-religious strategies to exercise greater control over gendered bodies and have antecedents dating back many centuries. Thus while women and transvestites were highly regarded as ritual specialists in much of Southeast Asia during the early part of the period 14001680, they experienced a marked decline in prestige owing to the subsequent development of Islam and other Great Religions. Such declines in prestige have not always entailed stigma; it is nonetheless true that in present-day Malay society the sole ritual activity specifically linked with the once sacred role of gender crosser is that of bridal attendant (mak andam). Recent legislative and other measures will most likely eliminate this link in the near future and thus contribute to the further secularization of the role and its redefinition as a contaminating (as opposed to sacred) mediator in the gender system. More generally, such measures are contributing to an increased dichotomization of gender, especially since their goals include the elimination of mediating categories such as pondan and the cleansing ("defeminization") of local masculinities.