1st Edition

Animism in Southeast Asia

Edited By Kaj Arhem, Guido Sprenger Copyright 2016
    340 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    340 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Animism refers to ontologies or worldviews which assign agency and personhood to human and non-human beings alike. Recent years have seen a revival of this concept in anthropology, where it is now discussed as an alternative to modern-Western naturalistic notions of human-environment relations.

    Based on original fieldwork, this book presents a number of case studies of animism from insular and peninsular Southeast Asia and offers a comprehensive overview of the phenomenon – its diversity and underlying commonalities and its resilience in the face of powerful forces of change. Critically engaging with the current standard notion of animism, based on hunter-gatherer and horticulturalist societies in other regions, it examines the roles of life forces, souls and spirits in local cosmologies and indigenous religion. It proposes an expansion of the concept to societies featuring mixed farming, sacrifice and hierarchy and explores the question of how non-human agents are created through acts of attention and communication, touching upon the relationship between animist ontologies, world religion, and the state.

    Shedding new light on Southeast Asian religious ethnographic research, the book is a significant contribution to anthropological theory and the revitalization of the concept of animism in the humanities and social sciences.

    Part One: Introductory 1. Southeast Asian Animism in Context Kaj Århem 2. Dimensions of Animism in Southeast Asia Guido Sprenger Part Two: Case Studies – Mainland and The Philippines 3. Seeing and Knowing: Metamorphosis and the Fragility of Species in Chewong Animistic Ideology Signe Howell 4. Graded Personhood: Human and Non-human Actors in the Southeast Asian Uplands Guido Sprenger 5. Animism and the Hunter’s Dilemma: Hunting, Sacrifice and Asymmetric Exchange Among the Katu of Vietnam Kaj Århem 6. Wrestling With Spirits, Escaping the State: Animist Ecology and Settlement Policy in the Annamite Cordillera Nikolas Århem 7. Actualizing Spirits: Ifugao Animism as Onto-praxis Jon Henrik Ziegler Remme Part Three: Case Studies – Insular Southeast Asia 8. Relatedness and Alterity in Bentian Human-spirit Relations Kenneth Sillander 9. The Dynamics of the Cosmic Conversation: Beliefs bout Spirits among the Kelabit and Penan of the Upper Baram River, Sarawak Monica Janowski 10. Animism and Anxiety: Religious Conversion among the Kelabit of Sarawak Matthew H. Amster 11. Boundaries of Humanity: Non-human Others and Animist Ontology in Eastern Indonesia Timo Kaartinen 12. Gods and Spirits in the Wetu Telu Religion of Lombok Sven Cederroth 13. Impaling Spirit: Three Categories of Ontological Domain in Eastern Indonesia David Hicks Part Four: Concluding 14. Southeast-Asian Animism: A Dialogue with Amerindian Perspectivism Kaj Århem 15. End Comment: To Conclude in the Spirit of Rebirth, or, a Note on Animic Anthropo-ontogenesis Tim Ingold


    Kaj Århem is Emeritus Professor in Social Anthropology at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. His previously published books include: Makuna: Portrait of an Amazonian People (1998); Ethnographic Puzzles (2000) and The Katu Village (2010). 

    Guido Sprenger is Professor at the Institute of Anthropology, Heidelberg University, Germany. He has previously published on ritual, exchange, human-environment relations, kinship and social morphology, cultural identity, and sexuality.

    Selected for the Outstanding Academic Title (OAT) Award 2017 by CHOICE magazine.

    "These papers are a tremendous addition to comparative studies, Southeast Asian studies theory and methods, and ethnographic work. Defining and revitalizing animism, the editors bring together original fieldwork from 11 anthropologists. They define animism as the "ontologies or worldviews which assign agency and personhood to human and non-human beings alike." The German and Swedish editors keep the traditional theories in play while adding significantly to the body of methodological knowledge. The fieldwork is exceptional and wide-ranging; each essay serves as a springboard to further examination. This rare volume, both strong in content and groundbreaking in theory and methods, is a publication of the work on a panel organized at the sixth Conference of the European Association of Southeast Asian Studies in Gothenburg, Sweden, in August 2010. An exciting addition to the already powerful Routledge Contemporary Southeast Asia series. Summing Up: Essential." -- L. L. Lam-Easton, California State University, Northridge in CHOICE.

    "... this book includes a number of ethnographically detailed and analytically well-articulated essays which should prove valuable to anyone interested in comparative cosmology and forms of symbolic or spiritual knowledge, not just in Southeast Asia but more generally." -- Gregory Forth, University of Alberta, Canada in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

    "[This] is a rich study that reaches well beyond the bounds of regional and disciplinary expertise. Surely, anthropologists of religion in Southeast Asia will have some commentary on the work, but so should scholars who work in the fields of global history, anthropology, sociology, religious studies, politics and society, and any number of subdisciplines. The rich comparative approach between Amerindian—in particular, Amazonian along with Ojibwe—animism and Southeast Asian animism broadens the possibilities of analysis for experts who work in East, South, and Central Asia, and the Middle East as well as African contexts." -- William B. Noseworthy, University of Wisconsin-Madison in Southeast Asian Studies

    "Animism in Southeast Asia might prove to be a landmark for a new direction in Southeast Asian ethnographies of spirit beliefs (Animism)." -- Nathan Porath and Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, Chiang Mai University, Thailand in Bijdragen