Organized Panel Session
This panel explores the intersections between religion and technology in Asian cultures, using anthropological and archival research, aesthetic analysis, and contemporary theories of virtual ritual. The papers in this panel move away from an instrumentalist approach to demonstrate, instead, the various ways in which lived religion becomes technologized and technology gets embedded into religiosity. Peter Schmitthenner examines such an instance in the infrastructural project of Arthur Cotton, who built a built a barrier across Godavari Delta as an act of Christian philanthropy in 1852 and became associated with the sacred landscape of the region. Such sanctifications continue to justify the increasing number of engineering interventions along rivers in India today. Saumya Agarwal demonstrates how representations of trains influenced the perspectival aesthetics and representational practices of deities in India’s Sekhawati region, from 1750-1950. This practice emerged not as an interstitial stage in the acculturation of technology, but from within the region’s social hierarchies. Focusing on special effects, Anu Thapa argues that the aesthetics of Hindi commercial cinema is an instance of techno-religious realism. From the early mythologicals (1920s) to contemporary sci-fi, this globally popular cinema has consistently triangulated the theological, the technological and the anthropological. Focusing on Chinese ritual of ancestral worship, Ori Tavor explores issues of corporeality and authenticity in online services like iVeneration, which combines a physical columbarium that houses the remains of the deceased with 2D and 3D Virtual Reality interfaces.
Ultimately, the papers in this panel challenge notions of secularism that separate religion and technology.