The eternal mother and the state: circumventing religious management in Singapore.
Lim, Francis Khek Gee.
Date of Issue2012
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Most modern states have policies for the management of religion. For those with diverse religious communities, how to ensure the peaceful coexistence of the various religions becomes an important challenge for governments. Hence, modern secular states often delineate a proper “domain” for religion in society in order to properly regulate it. In response, religious groups, many transnational in nature, can adopt various strategies to respond to state regulation, ranging from resistance, to accommodation, to acceptance. This paper examines how, in its negotiations with state-imposed restrictions, the Yiguan Dao – a transnational Chinese syncretic sect that has experienced phenomenal growth in Asia and beyond – has chosen not to identify itself publicly as a “religion”, but rather adopts a more “secular” identity in its official dealings with the public and the state by emphasising its “cultural” and “scientific” aspects. Further, the sect utilises the practice of religious territoriality to transform officially secular residential properties into the sacred sites of temples in order to circumvent state restrictions on religious buildings. This paper demonstrates how a religious movement can undergo organisational change and adopt innovative territorial practices, and manage to flourish in the face of state regulations as well as the negative views of other, more “orthodox”, religions.
Asian studies review