Performing the Divine

Mediums, Markets and Modernity in Urban Vietnam

Kirsten W. Endres

  • Published: 2011
  • Pages: 288 pp.
  • illustrated
  • Series: NIAS Monographs
  • Series number: 118
Avaiable from NIAS Press worldwide
ISBN Hardback: 978 87 7692 075 1, £50.00 (June 2011)
ISBN Paperback: 978 87 7692 076 8, £16.99 ()

 

  • Deals with timely and important topics for scholars of Vietnam as well as those interested in the cross-cultural study of popular religions.
  • Focuses on the flourishing of urban spirit mediumship as part of the recent revival of popular religion in Vietnam.
  • Explores a vibrant and imaginative religious movement within the context of market reform and economic growth in Vietnam.
  • Offers rich insights into how the complex dynamics of reformed, market-oriented socialism are played out in ritual practice.

 

Vietnam in the last two decades has experienced not only market reform and significant economic growth but also a related, symbiotic revival of popular religion. It is no surprise, then, that popular beliefs and rituals that once were attacked as wasteful and superstitious have again become a conspicuous feature of contemporary urban and rural life.

A new blossoming of spirit mediumship has been part of this revival, not least that involving ritual possession by the deities of the Four Palace Pantheon, which this study based in urban Hanoi brings to life with a deft handling of complex theory, historical research, ethnographic material and analysis.

This is indeed a sojourn into the world of mediumship in contemporary urban Vietnam - a spirited world full of colour, laughter, music and ritual dance that operates according to its own rules and principles - but it is also an insightful study of spirituality, performance, gender and heritage, one that highlights the fluidity of ritual practice and contestations of ritual performance among practitioners.

‘This is an excellent volume dealing with timely and important topics for scholars of Vietnam as well as those interested in the cross-cultural study of popular religions.’ (External reviewer)

author image not supplied

Kirsten W. Endres is a senior research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle/Saale (Germany). She has worked and carried out field research in Vietnam since the mid-1990s. Her ethnographic research spans rural and urban communities in both northern and southern regions of the country.

Kirsten W. Endres is a senior research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle/Saale (Germany). She has worked and carried out field research in Vietnam since the mid-1990s. Her ethnographic research spans rural and urban communities in both northern and southern regions of the country.

Watch an interview with the author here.

Go to author page

by Karen Fjelstad
From journal:
Anthropological Forum, Vol. 23, No. 3

"The volume is a major contribution to the growing body of scholarly writing on post-Renovation Vietnam, and an excellent choice for anyone interested in religion and ritual.

"The volume is a major contribution to the growing body of scholarly writing on post-Renovation Vietnam, and an excellent choice for anyone interested in religion and ritual.

… this volume addresses several timely issues and theoretically provocative ideas surrounding relationships between ritual, markets, and modernity. The author has a talent for explaining complex theory in understandable terms, and illustrates her points with fascinating ethnographic examples."

by Alfred J. Montoya, Trinity University
From journal:
Journal of Vietnamese Studies, Vol. 7, No. 4, 2012

"This is a competent, careful and concise work by a patient and practiced scholar. The work explores mediumship through a wide range of considerations, from its practice as an embodied technique du corp (Chapter Three), to its intersection with market forces (Chapter Four), to its enactment of identities that collapse restrictive Vietnamese gender norms and traditions (Chapter Five).

"This is a competent, careful and concise work by a patient and practiced scholar. The work explores mediumship through a wide range of considerations, from its practice as an embodied technique du corp (Chapter Three), to its intersection with market forces (Chapter Four), to its enactment of identities that collapse restrictive Vietnamese gender norms and traditions (Chapter Five). Endres provides us with a portrait of a ritual tradition as an object not outside of time or modernity, as much older scholarship would have it, but a powerful reflection of and on both."

by Thien-Huong Ninh, University of Southern California
From journal:
Journal of Vietnamese Studies, Vol. 7, No. 4, 2012

"Performing the Divine is an important contribution to the ongoing discussion about religious practices and marketization in Vietnam. Endres analyzes very rich and in-depth data extracted from forty interviews and two hundred pages of field notes, which she collected fromyears of developing trust and relationships withmediums including her direct participation in the rituals.

"Performing the Divine is an important contribution to the ongoing discussion about religious practices and marketization in Vietnam. Endres analyzes very rich and in-depth data extracted from forty interviews and two hundred pages of field notes, which she collected fromyears of developing trust and relationships withmediums including her direct participation in the rituals. The author makes this piece an engaging read by immersing herself into the data presentation and theoretical analysis."

by Lukas Pokorny
From journal:
ASIEN, No. 126, January 2013

"In sieben Abschnitten verhandelt die Autorin eindringlich und kenntnisreich jene „Fluidität“ bzw. Adaptationskraft mediumistischer Praktiken und Vorstellungswelten.

"In sieben Abschnitten verhandelt die Autorin eindringlich und kenntnisreich jene „Fluidität“ bzw. Adaptationskraft mediumistischer Praktiken und Vorstellungswelten.

… Wortgewandt und methodisch beeindruckend gelingt es Endres, Theorie und reichhaltiges ethnographisches Material zu verschränken. „Performing the Divine“ positioniert sich sonach zweifellos als Pflichtlektüre für all jene, die interessiert sind an Religion in Vietnam und Ostasien."

by Janet Hoskins, University of Southern California
From journal:
Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 1, No. 3, 2012

"The old imperial deities have become "cosmopolitan travellers in the transethnic and transnational spiritscapes" inhabited by the newly mobile populations of those who worship them. Endres herself has proven an insightful and perceptive guide along these journeys.

"The old imperial deities have become "cosmopolitan travellers in the transethnic and transnational spiritscapes" inhabited by the newly mobile populations of those who worship them. Endres herself has proven an insightful and perceptive guide along these journeys.

This is an important book as much for the conceptual challenges it presents as the new ethnographic details. It is a theoretically sophisticated study that asks questions about the role of particular agents and power relations in resurrecting and reconstituting a once supressed set of ritual practices. The answer that it provides will appeal to scholars of religion, ritual and Vietnamese studies."

by Laurel Kendall, Columbia University
From journal:
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 19, No. 1, 2013

"Kirsten Endres’s Performing the divine offers a window on contemporary spirit mediumship in the Four Palace Religion as practised in Hanoi, Vietnam. It adds to a growing literature on the flowering of popular religious practices since the opening of the Vietnamese market and general easing of social control in the late 1980s.

"Kirsten Endres’s Performing the divine offers a window on contemporary spirit mediumship in the Four Palace Religion as practised in Hanoi, Vietnam. It adds to a growing literature on the flowering of popular religious practices since the opening of the Vietnamese market and general easing of social control in the late 1980s.

Performing the divine is one more indication that serious comparative studies of Asian popular religions, East and Southeast, are long overdue. Such a project would benefit from the rigorous fieldwork and careful historical contextualization that Endres offers here."

by Chan Yuk Wah, City University, Hong Kong
From journal:
Asian Anthropologist, Vol. 11, 2012

"This book is a fascinating ethnographic account of the popular religious practice lên đồng, the spirit medium ritual, in Vietnam. The author, Kirsten W. Endres, has provided readers with vivid descriptions of the details of the ritual and many narratives of the people involved in mediumship.

"This book is a fascinating ethnographic account of the popular religious practice lên đồng, the spirit medium ritual, in Vietnam. The author, Kirsten W. Endres, has provided readers with vivid descriptions of the details of the ritual and many narratives of the people involved in mediumship.

The book is easy and interesting to read and bring readers’ attention to many thoughtful reflections on modern experiences of the spiritual world."

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