IRPS Seminar by Professor Oscar Salemink

Published: Monday 23rd November 2015

The Institute for Religion Politics Society (IRPS)  has organised a seminar with Professor Oscar Salemink on Tuesday 1 December at 3pm. Oscar Salemink is Professor in the Anthropology of Asia at the University of Copenhagen, affiliated with the KU Asian Dynamics Initiative, and will talk on the Human Rights Encounter and the Transformation of Religion in Vietnam.

In this presentation I explore how the emergence of a series of Human Rights contestations over the last four decades is gradually transforming the understanding and definition of religion as social category and as practice in Vietnam.

In particular, I shall zoom in on the use of Human Rights discourse of religious freedom in conflicts between the Vietnamese State and existing (spirit possession, Buddhism, Catholicism) and emerging (Protestant Christianity) religious practices within Vietnam.

Based on own research and that of others, I argue that the nature of these conflicts is different in each case, but that the appeal to the ‘secular religion’ of Human Rights creates a volatile arena of localized and transnational contestations which invariably seek to legitimize their positions with reference to ‘sacrosanct’ Human Rights.

In recent scholarship on the emergence and persistence of the categories of ‘the religious’ and ‘the secular’ in the West and in Asia, the definition, practice and social significance of religion in Asia is seen as deeply transformed under the impact of colonialism.

Put simply, in spite of the ubiquity of religious and ritual practices in pre-colonial Asia, the imperial encounter has created the categories of the religious along with the secular.

In this paper I argue that the Human Rights encounter over religious freedom has similar effects for the definition and practice of religion, namely to institutionalize, transnationalize, and purify religious practice in terms of exclusive, confessional convictions, requiring a public presence and hence accommodation with the state.

To reserve a seat at the Melbourne venue contact Raf Rooseleers at the latest on Monday 30th of November (email

The seminar will be available through Polycom videoconferencing and at these rooms on different ACU campuses: dial in 6108142

Ballarat – 503
Brisbane – AC.22
Canberra – s110
Melbourne – 6.02 Spring St.
North Sydney – 12.22 (L12, TWH)
Strathfield – E2.45/VC room

ACU Staff can also dial in via Polycom on their desktop or personal mobile device with the Polycom app installed, more information on Polycom Realpresence.