CALL FOR PAPERS | Asian Catholic Materialities

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Call for Papers
May 2, 2023
Subject Fields: 
Religious Studies and Theology, Southeast Asian History / Studies, Anthropology, Urban Design and Planning, East Asian History / Studies

DATE OF EVENT : 30 August - 1 September 2023
VENUE : Hybrid (National University of Singapore & Online via Zoom)


This conference investigates the material forms through which Asian Catholics manifest their liturgical concerns, ecological commitment, and institutional presence, and how these material translations and negotiations participate in the making of contemporary Asia.

Historically, Asian Catholics have built outstanding hospitals, schools, and churches which have reshaped the visual landscape and material flows of Asian social spaces (Arimura 2014, Coomans 2018, Hudd 2019). Often, Asian Catholics and their objects have questioned the ways in which their surrounding society related to and conceptualized the material world. During the multi-secular Chinese rite controversy (1582-1936), Catholics have challenged the ways East Asian authorities materially perform a wide range of ritual practices which structured their political order (Mungello 1994).

But under different circumstances, Asian Catholics have also integrated and preserved indigenous understandings of the material world and its agency (Bovensiepen 2018). In parallel, Catholic networks and institutions have played a major role in introducing and circulating new knowledge and techniques about physics, botanic, agriculture, chemistry and medicine which have questioned the ways Asian societies relate to the material environment (Galipeau 2021).

Today, Asian Catholics continue to materially translate their social presence, ecological concerns, economic efforts, and religious commitments. Through the erection of new sites of devotions, cemeteries, and public institutions, Asian Catholics mobilize particular materials and designs to make their priorities tangible. Echoing to Global Catholicism conversations and elaborating on their own locally-informed cultural resources, Asian Catholics join actions to prevent climate change and preserve the environment (Palmer 2015). And the material experience, concerns, and sensibilities of Asian Catholics have far reaching influences – they participate in the contemporary production of Asian societies and Global Catholicism.

In dialogue with the material turn in religious studies and the Initiative for the Study of Asian Catholics, this hybrid conference probes conceptions of Catholic materialities in contemporary Asia (Fleming 2014; Reinhardt 2016). While considering the relevance of geography, history, politics, and economy in the study of the material ideologies of Asian Catholics (Chambon 2020), the conference seeks to question the ways in which Asian Catholics participate in the material production of contemporary Asia and world Catholicism. Without essentializing and homogenizing Asian Catholic beliefs and practices, the conference will investigate ways to conceptualize Catholic cultural productions and materialities and their relations with other Asian religious traditions, economic flows, and political ideologies.

Selected papers should address one or more of the following questions:

  • What are the materially informed practices and discourses that Asian Catholics promote today? Which worldviews about the material environment, the body, and human sociability do they encourage?
  • How are the architectural features of Asian Catholic hospitals, schools, cemeteries, and churches, producing various forms of Asian Catholicism and inter-religious coexistences?
  • Who are the individual and institutional actors involved in the production and circulations of Asian Catholic objects? How are the material translation of Asian Catholicism intersecting with on-going negotiations of gender ideologies, class, and racial identities?
  • How are Asian Catholics taking parts in economic flows as well as in responses to ecological crisis and climate change?
  • How are digital tools impacting the ways in which Asian Catholics relate to the material world and the body? How are online technologies mobilized to spread Catholic understandings of the nature?
  • To what extent does the flow of material objects participate in and shape the worldwide integration of Asian Catholics into global economy and world Catholicism? What are the objects circulating in and out of Asian Catholic networks? How do they shape economic flows and religious aesthetics beyond Asian Catholicism?


Arimura, Rie. 2014. “The Catholic Architecture of Early Modern Japan: Between Adaptation and Christian Identity.” Japan Review 27 (27): 53–76.
Judith M. 2018. The Land of Gold. Cornell University Press.
Chambon, Michel. 2020. Making Christ Present in China: Actor-Network Theory and the Anthropology of Christianity. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.
Coomans, Thomas. 2018. “East Meets West on the Construction Site. Churches in China, 1840s-1930s.” Construction History: Journal of the Construction History Group 33 (2): 63–84.
Fleming, Benjamin J. 2014. Material Culture and Asian Religions: Text, Image, Object. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
Galipeau, Brendan A. 2021. “Free in the Mountains or Home in the Vineyard: Institutional Changes in Agriculture and Negotiating Between Contract Farm Labour and Valuable Fungi Collection in Tibet.” Journal of Agrarian Change 21 (1): 143–59.
Hudd, Sandra. 2019. “Revisiting Christian Missionaries in the Straits Settlements: Blurring the Boundaries Between Empire, Mission and Development.” Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 92 (1): 21–39.
Mungello, D. E. 1994. The Chinese Rites Controversy: Its History and Meaning. Nettetal: Steyler Verlag.
Palmer, Lisa. Water Politics and Spiritual Ecology Custom, Environmental Governance and Development. New York: Routledge, 2015.
Reinhardt, Bruno. “‘Don’t Make It a Doctrine’: Material Religion, Transcendence, Critique.” Anthropological Theory 16, no. 1 (2016): 75-97.


Paper proposals should include a title, an abstract (300 words maximum), and a brief personal biography of 150 words for submission by 2 May 2023. Please also include a statement confirming that your paper has not been published or committed elsewhere, and that you are willing to revise your paper for potential inclusion in an edited book publication (in collaboration with the workshop organizers and other participants).

Please submit your proposal using the provided template to Successful applicants will be notified by the end of May. Panel presenters will be required to submit drafts of papers (4,000-6,000) words by 15 August 2023. These drafts will be circulated to fellow panelists and discussants in advance. Drafts need not be fully polished. Indeed, we expect that presenters will be open to feedback from fellow participants.

This hybrid conference will accommodate both in-person and online participants, as needed. If possible, the Asia Research Institute will provide overseas participants with full or partial airfare as well as three nights of accommodation. Please indicate in the proposal form if you require funding support.


Dr Michel Chambon 
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore


Contact Info: 

Ms Minghua TAY
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
AS8 Level 7, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
Tel: (65) 6516 4224
Fax: (65) 6779 1428