Religion and Beliefs
East Timor is now the most predominantly Roman Catholic country in Asia with about 98 percent of its population of 1.2 million professing to the faith. Few countries can be said to have adopted Roman Catholicism in quite the same way. Although Roman Catholic missionization had been present there for several centuries, it was only in the last few decades that the faith started to gain a significant foothold. As many scholars have pointed out, the proportion of East Timorese Catholics increased from 13 percent of the population in the early 1950s, to staggering 90 percent in the 1990s. This concentrated rise in the adoption of the faith is commonly associated with the Roman Catholic institution’s solidarity with the violent resistance movement against Indonesian occupation in the 1970s. However, relatively less attention has been given to the nature of the interface between Roman Catholic doctrine and indigenous customs, traditions and practices. As such, the presenters in this panel seek to provide empirical and conceptual nuance to the adoption of Roman Catholic beliefs and practices in East Timor. Moving beyond conventional analyses of missionary initiated processes of syncretism and inculturation, the emphasis is on how local agents and networks draw upon vernacular and autochthonous wellsprings in crafting nationhood in the contemporary context.