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Taiwan Research Programme
London School of Economics and Political Science
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London, WC2A 2AE

 

Co-Directors
Professor Stephan Feuchtwang
s.feuchtwang@lse.ac.uk

Dr Fang-Long Shih
f.shih@lse.ac.uk

Death, Death-Scapes and Secularism in Taiwan and the Philippines

With Dr Paul-François Tremlett (School of Oriental and African Studies)

Series: Seminars on Religion and Society

Date: Thursday 15 March 2007, 6pm-8pm

Venue: Seligman Library (Room A607), Old Building, London School of Economics (LSE)

Chair: Professor Stephan Feuchtwang (Taiwan Culture Research Programme)

Abstract

This paper analyses changing geographies of disposal in the urban centres of Taipei in Taiwan and Manila in the Philippines, specifically shifts from burial to cremation and the extent to which such shifts reflect changing patterns of residence, mobility and conceptions of locality in both places. In this essay the term 'postmodern' will refer not to a body of theory but to material transformations in the structuring of the economy and polity marked by migration from rural areas to cities and the production of places and localities where 'traditional' signs of hierarchy, memory and belonging appear to have been abolished. It has been claimed that the analysis of social practices surrounding death "throws into relief the most important cultural values by which people live their lives and evaluate their experiences" (Huntingdon and Metcalf 1979:25). However, I shall argue that conventional anthropological approaches to death practices - which tend to focus on ritual rather than the sites of disposal as special kinds of place-making - though valuable, need radical revision in order to satisfactorily account for the kinds of changes that are specified over the course of this essay. The privileged contextual horizon for conventional anthropological and sociological approaches to death, dying and disposal has been the concept of 'culture'. I will argue that the structuring of contemporary death rituals in both Taiwan and the Philippines is not local culture but rather, on the one hand, the modern state that seeks increasingly to intervene and regulate the minutiae of daily life and, on the other, the 'market' which continuously opens up new areas to the grasping hand of capital accumulation.

About the Speaker

Dr Paul-François Tremlett is Research Fellow in the Department of the Study of Religions at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and a part-time Lecturer at the Institute of Ismaili Studies. He teaches a variety of courses including Theory and Method in the Study of Religions, Religion in London and Religions of Southeast Asia. He has been teaching on Western Social Theory in Dialogue with Taiwan Studies in the London Taiwan Summer Workshop since 2002. He is currently working on a comparative analysis of death, disposal and landscape in Taiwan and Philippines and is writing a book about Claude Lévi-Strauss. He is also Assistant Editor of the Journal Culture and Religion.

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