Organized Panel Session
Monsoon Asia comprises northern India, southern China, and southeast Asia in an interconnected region of ecological and cultural systems. There is growing recognition of Monsoon Asia as an area worthy of study and this panel explores one aspect of what that might look like. Across the region, communities, religions, and states are each entangled with spirit power in different, but similar ways. The term ‘spirit’ is contested, but familiar, so we use it, but mark it as transitional. This ‘spirit’ power exists in deep interconnection with the earth’s elements and is wrapped up to varying degrees with human projects of basic subsistence and empire building from our earliest human records right up into acts of contemporary state building and homesteading. This panel grapples with both the material and discursive markers that signify the deliberate activation of elemental power, but also with how power is understood, felt, accommodated, and deployed by various actors as they manipulate and produce their spaces of habitation. Known by various names across the region, each suggesting ownership, lordship, ancestry, authority, or governance, these elemental ‘spirits’ are ubiquitous and underlie states, communities, and religions with disparate cultural trappings—making them all a bit similar. We suggest that a better understanding of human power as an emanation or co-optation of elemental forces can shed light on both the history of the state and society in Monsoon Asia and on new pathways for finding the future.