This is the first session of a two-part roundtable examining ways that states and religions in modern Southeast Asia are and are not mutually constitutive. Building from the anthropology of the state, political studies of religion, philosophy, and the history of social categorization, comparative studies discuss how boundary-making related to belief has been crucial to the evolution of contemporary states and how state authority in such categorization enables and constrains, while being inherently limited. Meanwhile, for religious believers the affective power of social categorization to make sense of an experience or creed and share it with others is necessary, yet fraught. Looking at religiously-framed social categorization also helps probe the limits of state-making; because religion deals with absolute truth and transcendent realities, it cannot be wholly subsumed by the state. States frequently involve themselves in certain religious matters although not others, speaking to what practices are legible and legitimate. Religious communities help create the state by participation in assigned categories, calls for regulation, and resistance against such categories. Southeast Asia is an ideal location for this theoretical and comparative work because religion-state relations span from absolute, full-embrace (Brunei) to strategic, contested alliances (Myanmar, Indonesia) to separation and suspicion (Vietnam), and shades in between. Additionally, the region is home to many world religions (Islam, Buddhism, Christianity) in addition to local minority or non-normative traditions. These sessions develop discussions from a 2018 workshop with these participants, and we will make a framing document available before the conference to encourage wider engagement.
Kikue Hamayotsu works comparatively at the theoretical level to explore why and how the particular mode of state-religion relations have emerged across various religious traditions and various political regimes. David Kloos discusses how public expressions of Islam feed back into the practices of Islamic state institutions in Malaysia using examples from his research on female Islamic authority and public communication. Tracy Llanera elucidates how militant Christian leaders use religious categories to rationalize the Philippine drug war, including labels like “sinners” and “divine sanction.” Dominik Mueller builds from his work in Brunei to question how the state utilizes categories of Islamic permissibility.