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Conferences and Workshops

Salvage and Salvation: Religion, Disaster Relief, and Reconstruction in Asia Print
Date: 22 Nov 2012 - 23 Nov 2012
Venue: Asia Research Insitute Seminar Room
Tower Block, Level 10, 469A Bukit Timah Road
National University of Singapore @ BTC
Organisers: Dr FOUNTAIN Philip
Download Files: Programme Abstracts

What does it mean to offer salvation in the midst of catastrophe? What dynamics are in play at the intersection of religion and disaster relief in Asia? Over the past few years Asia has witnessed frequent massive and high profile disasters, notably the Indian Ocean tsunami (2004), the Kashmir earthquake (2005), Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar (2008), the Pakistan floods of 2010, and the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters in northeast Japan. In the wake of these tragedies and the numerous other disasters, small and large, that also afflict the region religious organizations have played pivotal roles in disaster response initiatives. Millions of relief workers and billions of dollars in aid have been mobilized through their networks. However, despite having a profound impact on the lives of disaster victims, these initiatives have gone largely under-reported and there has been no comprehensive attempt to present research on religion and relief in contemporary Asia. 'Salvage and Salvation' will be the first interdisciplinary conference to bring together researchers, humanitarian workers, and policy makers to address this theme.


Analysis of religion and disaster relief introduces important practical and theoretical concerns. Understanding the full ramifications of 'religion and disaster' requires attention to specific religions and the different positions they assume. Additionally, it cannot be presumed that Asian states are religiously neutral and their governance over disaster events may reconfigure the religious ecology in influential ways. Disasters and relief efforts open new forms of communality among affected populations, thereby affecting religion and politics and inspiring novel social and spiritual trajectories. Humanitarian actors and grassroots mobilizations are deeply implicated in these shifts. Even self-consciously secular humanitarian organizations inevitably engage with the religious realities they encounter in their disaster responses through varying strategies of collaboration, accommodation, or exclusion of different activities. A region-wide comparative approach to disaster and recovery should be concerned with the broadest possible spectrum of what 'salvation' may comprise, whether associated with the state or non-governmental actors or whether designated 'religious' or 'secular'.


This workshop will address the following topics (and related themes) as they relate to the Asian region:


  • Analysis of the types of humanitarian work undertaken by Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, secular and other groups in response to disasters, including rescue operations, medical and post-traumatic care, fundraising, reconstruction, mitigation, proselytizing, spiritual counseling, and other interventions;
  • Doctrinal, ritual, clerical, and/or institutional innovations occasioned by religious disaster responses;
  • The ways in which states and mainstream humanitarian organizations perceive, define and manage religion in disaster situations and the logics they deploy to adjudicate their assessments;
  • Collaborations and entanglements between religious organizations, state actors, humanitarian organizations, and community groups in disaster response initiatives;
  • Emerging transnational networks forged between religious groups, humanitarian organizations, and other actors engaged in disaster responses;
  • Reconfigurations of local communities following religious and/or secular disaster relief initiatives;
  • Contrasting visions of 'salvation' offered in response to disasters and the ramifications of these visions as they are enacted into practice.


Prof Jonathan BENTHALL, University College London, UK
Assoc Prof Erica BORNSTEIN, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA


Souls of Zen: Ancestors and Agency in Contemporary Japanese Temple Buddhism
Tim Graf, Director, Producer and Writer
Jakob Montrasio, Director and Cinematographer

The 89-minute documentary will be held on 21 November 2012, in conjunction with the workshop. For more information, please click here


Admission is free. Kindly register early as seats are available on a first come, first served basis. We would gratefully request that you RSVP to Valerie Yeo e-mail: indicating your name, email, designation, organization and contact number.


Conference Convenors:

Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

North Carolina State University, USA


Ms Valerie YEO
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

Contact Person: Mdm Valerie YEO