Demons and Gods on Display: The Pageantry of Popular Religion as Crossroads Encounters

Conference: AAS-in-Asia2020 (AAS-in-Asia2020)
Title: Demons and Gods on Display: The Pageantry of Popular Religion as Crossroads Encounters
Stream: Anthropology
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Katherine Swancutt, King's College London, United Kingdom (organizer, presenter, chair)
Laurel Kendall, American Museum of Natural History, United States (presenter)
Ni Wayan Pasek Ariati, School for International Training (SIT), Indonesia (presenter)
Kari Telle, Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), Norway (presenter)
Moumita Sen, MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion, and Society, Norway (presenter)
Cynthea Bogel, Kyushu University, Japan (discussant)


Display is a recurrent and immanently diverse theme in Asian studies and classic anthropological analyses of ritual, performance, theatre, and even museology. Yet an ‘anthropology of display’ has yet to emerge as a field of study in its own right that would show how persons, things, gods, spirits, beings, qualities, and emotions are not only explicitly brought to the surface of social life, but mobilise old and new narratives about creativity, curiosity, philosophical reflection, national identity, political debate, latent danger, and ethnic belonging. Popular religions in Asia routinely play host to multiple forms of pageantry that offer a wealth of examples for display, which can be traced semantically to the notion of being ‘unfurled’, ‘unfolded’, ‘scattered’, or even ‘dispersed’ among spectators. Seen in this light, anything put on ‘display’ is inherently elastic and positioned at a crossroads – stretched, as it were, between self and other, subject and object, performer and audience, or the demonic and divine. Bringing together ethnographic works on popular religion and pageantry in Bali, India, Korea, Lombok, and Southwest China, we explore how specific worlds of display are made by different ethnic groups and Asian spiritual milieus. We probe the politics and imagery behind historic conflicts that underpin new modes of religiosity and victory; the morality of openness to strange or unexpected spirits; the deployment of bodies, objects, and aesthetics in diverse ritual settings; the celebration of newfound cosmopolitanisms in staged pageants, shamanic ceremonies, villages carnivals, and cityscapes; and the complex, elastic, emotive, and unpredictable relationships that make going on display a ‘crossroads encounter’ in Asia.