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Beyond Commodification: Mass-Produced Religious Objects and Deep Authority in South and Southeast Asia

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

Session Submission Type: Organized Panel


Mass-produced religious objects in South and Southeast Asia are often understood as material embodiments of the market-oriented concerns of various prosperity cults that have emerged over the past thirty years. The lives of these objects, however, are intensely varied. From the moment of production, they are vulnerable to processes of marketing, consumption, veneration, abandonment, and destruction. As these objects circulate between religious, domestic, and international marketplaces they often simultaneously occupy the ranks of commodity, talisman, identity marker, and souvenir.
Some regard them as conduits for religious power, while others denigrate them as worthless tchotchkes.
This panel presents how different groups’ relationships to mass-produced religious objects create spaces crucial to the articulation religious meaning. Religious lifeworlds, ethical orientations, and regimes of power are worked out while dwelling with mass-produced religious objects. These objects demand specific bodily practices, ethical behaviors, and identity politics of those who seek them out. Furthermore, the objects’ imbedded histories, aesthetic qualities, and market values influence how people construct ontologies and narratives of self.
While the modes of production, consumption, and circulation have changed, the meanings and powers embedded and extracted from these objects are often rooted in long-held beliefs found within the respective histories and traditions that produce them. We understand the condition of mass-production to be an indicator of their mass-appeal and deep authority. In short, this panel explores how mass-produced religious objects in South and Southeast Asia signify a new iteration of the central role of material culture in the lives of the devout.

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