Building Trust, Constituting Allegiance, Imagining Society: A Symposium on Global Religion and Secularism

A standard feature of many secularization narratives is the modern triumph of trust (in experts, critical thinking, and multi-cultural democracy) over pre-modern allegiances (to political, religious, racial “tribes” and dogmas). This symposium scrutinizes this supposed antagonism, challenging the assumption that contemporary forms of trust in medicine, laboratory science, technological expertise, and democratic decision-making transcend the pre-modern. We pursue these questions through a set of historically and culturally diverse case studies, including the daily laboratory routines of 21st-century creationist scientists; debates over religious tolerance in colonial America; the conceptual entanglements between Asian medicine and religion; the epistemological borders between Islamic and scientific interpretations of Southeast Asian volcanic activity; the movement of medical charms across the boundaries of medieval England and Wales; and the engagement between spiritualism and science in the 19th-century United States.

Over the last decade, many pundits, and even some humanists and social scientists themselves, have offered what might be called a “regression hypothesis,” warning that the growth of authoritarianism, political polarization, science denialism, and “alternative” belief systems has threatened to reverse the traditions of rationality, tolerance, and technocratic expertise that define modern secular societies. However, such analyses frequently resort to discredited teleological narratives of progress. These narratives both overlook the structural violence of modern efficiency-oriented technocratic rule while caricaturing or simply dismissing the sophisticated contributions of religion to pre- and early modern science, medicine, and social organization. In recent years, the longue durée accounts provided by such scholars as Talal Asad, Wendy Brown, David Graeber, Ara Norenzayan, Jennifer Graber, and Monika Wohlrab-Sahr have challenged these more historically superficial accounts.

Working in religion, anthropology, the history of science and culture, environmental studies, and literary studies, the scholars contributing to this symposium critically engage the regression hypothesis. In a period of fragmentation (as tribalization) of the modern dream of a national and international civil society, what resources do we have as social scientists/humanities to cope, re-vision, re-imagine possible futures. How do we re-vision the revisioning of allegiances in a manner sustainable for any possible global future?

Day 1, Feb 11

11:00-11:30am (SGT)

8:30-9:00am (IST)

A note of welcome

11:30am-12:45pm (SGT)

9:00-10:15am (IST)

Keynote: Reflections on the Idea of the Self: Taking "Asia as Method" seriously

  • Nivedita Menon, Jawaharlal Nehru University

1:00pm-2:30pm (SGT)

10:30-12:00 (IST)

Panel 1: Non-normative Mobilities and Place-making “through” and “against” Statist Borders

  • Chair: Dhiraj Nite, Ambedkar University, Delhi, India

Twilight ‘Zomia’ of the Nation State: Itinerant Groups contra Borders, Ethnies and Politics                                                              

  • Avishek Ray, National Institute of Technology Silchar (India)

Decolonial Frames and Coalitional Resistance: The Kalbeliyas in North India

  • Ruchika Ranwa, IMS Unison University (India)
  • Suruchi Thapar-Björkert, University of Uppsala (Sweden)

Navigating Borders and Vulnerabilities: Rohingyas in Asia

  • Shaheena Ahluwalia, Chanakya National Law University (Patna, India)

Towards a Himalayan History of Sikkim

  • Swati Chawla, O.P. Jindal Global University (India)

SG: 2:30-3:30pm

IST 12:00-1:00pm

Lunch break for colleagues in India

3:30-4:45pm (SGT)

1:00-2:15pm (IST)

Panel 2: Traditional Knowledge and Grassroots Practices: Asian Commons through Epistemological Reframing 

  • Chair: Kailash Koushik, Christ (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru, India

Thinking Asia Conceptually Using the Works of Karl Gaspar, Syed Farid Alatas, and Sujata Patel

  • Hadje Cresencio Sadje, University of Hamburg (Germany)   

Prospects for Decolonial Feminism in the Making of an Asian Common: Islamic Feminists and Islamist Women Activists in Malaysia

  • Saleena Saleem, University of Liverpool

Green Village as a Unique Model of Self-Sustained Development Program in Kerala: A Study

  • Sreejith Kadiyakkol, Christ (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru, India

5:00-6:30pm (SGT)

2:30-4:00 (IST)

Panel 3: Encounter and Cohabitation: the (Im)material Borders in Postcolonial Metropolis 

  • Chair: Rolla Das, Christ (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru, India

The Many Facets of Decolonization: Refueeization and the Calcutta Metropolis, Post-1947

  • Subhasree Ghosh, Asutosh College, University of Calcutta (India)

Decolonising Toilets: Thinking Through the Commons

  • Anitha Suseelan, Priya Joseph, Albert Joseph Hefferan, Bhoomika U, Anuditha, Christ (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru, India

Towards Asian Commons in Tourism Studies

  • Christiane Kuhling, Western Sydney University (Australia)

The Bengali and Their Thali- Colonial Identity: Disasters and Stories from a Bengali Platter and the Capitalisation of Nostalgia

  • Souraja Chakraborty, Presidency University, Kolkata, India

Parallel Panels

6:45-8:00pm (SGT)

4:15-5:30 (IST)

Panel 4 (A): Oceanic Networks and Liquid Cartographies: Remapping and Reimagining Asia

  • Chair: Carola Lorea, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore.

Oceanic Immanence: Reinscribing the ‘Asian Commons’ through the Fluid Ontology of the Oceans

  • Nabanita Samanta, University of Hyderabad (India)

“Laboring for Intimate Geographies”: Artist Moving Images and the Reconstitution of Liquid Cartographies

  • Toby Wu, University of Chicago

The Excavation of Cantonese Mountain Songs and Fishermen's Songs in Disappearance: Remapping Hong Kong Studies in the Inter-Asian Oceans

  • Ka Lee Wong, University of Southern California

Panel 4 (B): Solidarities and Subjectivities in Asia

  • Chair: Sushma V Murthy, Christ (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru, India

The LGBTQ community in Asia

  • Lichchavi Harishekar, Indira Gandhi National Open University, India

The Role of South Asian Vernacular Languages in Redefining Gender and Gender Relations

  • Pragati Abhay Sambrani and Samarth Narayanan, Christ (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru, India

Forging Afro-Asian Solidarity in Neoliberal Age

  • Muskan Garg and Suryashekhar Biswas, Christ (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru, India

Day 2, Feb 18


10:00-10:10am (SGT)

7:30-7:40am (IST)


A note of welcome


10:10-11:40am (SGT)

7:40-9:10am (IST)



Panel 5: Rethinking Hong Kong’s Postcoloniality

  • Chair: Iam Chong Yip, Institute of Social Research and Culture Studies, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, Taiwan

After “Between Colonizers”, Hong Kong Way, and a Multidirectional Critique of Postcoloniality

  • Desmond Hok-Man Sham, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University (Taiwan)

A Heterogeneous Asian City on the Back of Chinese Nationalism: Leung Ping-kwan and Hong Kong Postcolonial and Post-nationalist Hybridity

  • Ka Ki Wong, Hong Kong Shue Yan University (HK)

Southeast Asian Women's Working Class Writing in post-2014 Hong Kong Story Circles: A Transnational Circuit of Solidarity

  • Kai Hang Cheang, Portland State University (US)

Burning Down the Status Quo: Reflections on the 2019 Protest Movement and Hong Kong’s Decolonization Project

  • Chun Chun Ting, Nanyang Technological University (SG)



11:50am-1:20pm (SGT)

9:20-10:50am (IST)


Panel 6: Transregional Cultural Flow and Cross-border Solidarities 

  • Chair: Kiu Wai Chu, Nanyang Technological University (SG),

Towards a Transcultural Asia Commons: Heroic Discourses, Flexible Identities, and Cinematic Historiographies

  • Jinhua Li, University of North Carolina Asheville (US)

Green Team and Video Power: a Comparative Study of Independent Video Activism and Collective Formation in Hong Kong and Taiwan

  • Emilie Sin-yi Choi, City University of Hong Kong (HK)

Understanding Asia through Workers Writings Today

  • Luka Lei Zhang, Nanyang Technological University (SG)

"On the Fence: Experimental Solidarities on Jeju Island and the US-Mexico Border "

  • Grant Leuning, UC San Diego (US)


1:20-2:30pm (SGT)

10:50am-12:00pm (IST)


Lunch break for colleagues in SG and HK


2:30-4:00pm (SGT)

12:00-1:30pm (IST)


Panel 7: Colonial Governance, Local Collaboration, and Their Postcolonial Consequences   

  • Chair: Tapsi Mathur, Nanyang Technological University (SG)

Town Talk: Enhancing the ‘Eyes and Ears’ of the Colonial State in British Hong Kong, 1950s –1975 

  • Florence Mok, Nanyang Technological University (SG)

Old Sins Have Long Roots: Water Regulation in Central Asia in Historical Retrospect

  • Irena Vladimirsky, RUDN Journal of the Russian History (RUDN – Russian University of the People's Friendship, Moscow, Russian Federation)

Printing and Editing Networks in the Mekong Delta During the French Colonial Era, 1919-1945

  • Cao Vy, Institute of Asian Researches (IrAsia), National Centre of Scientific Researches (CNRS), Aix-Marseille University (France)                                   

The Journey of Political Dissidents Escaping the Communist Bloc: a Case Study of the Self-exiled Chinese Intellectuals in Hong Kong and the Asia-Pacific Region in the 1950s and 1960s

  • Kenneth Kai-chung YUNG, Hong Kong University Press, University of Hong Kong


4:15-5:30pm (SGT)

1:45-3:00pm (IST)


Keynote Speech: University Remains to be Deimperialized? Bandung School/s As ‘Commoners’ Method for ‘Multiple’ Decolonization

  • Kuan-hsing Chen, Bandung School prep office

5:30-7:30pm (SGT)

3:00-5:00pm (IST)

Roundtable Discussion: Commoning a Discipline: Asian Cultural Studies or Cultural Studies in Asia?

This roundtable is an attempt to review and explore the discipline of cultural studies for the actualization of “Asian Commons”. In other words, we ask in what ways cultural studies is currently structured in Asia disciplinarily, institutionally, and geographically, and how it needs to be reconfigured in order to fulfil the promise of “Asian Commons.”  While the disciplinary practices in Western academia still function as a model for how cultural studies is researched and taught in the rest of the world, albeit with some local adjustment, the heterogeneity in Asia also implies that the political, institutional, and disciplinary imperatives have shaped the discipline in very specific ways, to the extent that each invocation of “Cultural Studies” may refer to a distinct epistemological object. This raises the question if an Asian Cultural Studies in distinction to Cultural Studies can be thought of in any meaningful way. As part of the “Asian Common” project, this roundtable intends to discuss the possibility of an Asian Cultural Studies and its limitations. In a sense, this roundtable is an attempt at translations between many practices in Asia under the disciplinary nomenclature of Cultural Studies.


  • Anaheed Al-Hardan, American University of Beirut
  • Alima Bissenova, Nazarbayev University
  • Kuan-hsing Chen, Bandung School prep office
  • Chua Beng Huat, National University of Singapore
  • Rashmi Sawhney, Christ University
  • C. J. WEE Wan-ling, Nanyang Technological University
  • Sophia Woodman, University of Edinburgh

7:30-7:40pm (SGT)

5:00-5:10pm (IST)

Thank you note