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Dreaming about the Neighbors: Magic and Orientalism in the Consumption of Thai Religious Goods in Singapore

Fri, April 1, 3:00 to 5:00pm, Washington State Convention Center, Floor: 3rd Floor, Room 302


Magic involves border-crossing. At least this was one if its hallmarks according to Marcel Mauss’s (2001[1902]) early study of the subject. For Mauss, whereas religion occupied the role of collective effervescence and social unity, magic existed on the sidelines, associated with marginal individuals and foreign influences: its powers founded upon what the potentiality presented by the exotic and the unknown yet to be explored.
This study examines the allure of Thai magical and religious objects in Singapore through Mauss’s theory on magic. I argue that a look at the adoption of foreign magical objects and symbols by Chinese Singaporean Buddhists sheds new light on the idea of magic as domestication of otherness, where one’s dreams about the neighbors turn into magico-religious ideas of potency, fueled by an aspirational discourse associated with dramatic changes in Singaporean society over the last few decades. Thus, via the study of magic, I argue that the city, as a center of inter-ethnic and cultural contact, becomes not a cosmopolitan place of understanding and rationalization, but as a site where the construction of new desires and phantasmic dreams about others takes place.


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