Faith in Immunity: Religion, COVID-19 Vaccines, and Structures of Trust

Valerie Yeo Announcement
Subject Fields
History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, Religious Studies and Theology, Anthropology

Workshop on Faith in Immunity: Religion, COVID-19 Vaccines, and Structures of Trust
27-28 October 2022 (Online via Zoom)


COVID-19 vaccines, with suspicions and preoccupations around their safety, their substances and their implicit moral implications, have been at the center of debates across Asian societies and their diverse religious, non-religious and spiritual communities. In media representation, vaccine hesitancy is often discussed as the direct result of irrationality, ignorance, the malicious influence of anti-modern religious leaders, or the misinformation campaigns. This discourse is dominated by Western and particularly American voices, representing religious and spiritual communities as the bulk of “anti-vaxxers” demanding religious exemptions to vaccine mandates. Yet to understand the mechanisms regulating “faith in immunity,” scholars need to peel beyond this binary discourse to interrogate the complex interplay between COVID immunity and pre-existing structures of trust, cosmologies of protection, and epistemologies of healing. What kinds of community relations, power structures, spiritual inclinations and influential authorities (religious, governmental, biomedical, etc.) lead people to trust or not trust COVID vaccines and information about it? How are COVID vaccines understood, accepted, or supplemented by Asian communities of practice? How are other concepts of immunity mobilized and given authority based on pre-existing structures of trust?

This workshop interrogates notions of immunity, focusing on the ways in which it is also culturally constructed and socially shaped through processes and practices that involve the intertwined spheres of cosmology, medicine, ritual and health. Through the concepts of “faith in immunity” and “structures of trust,” this workshop will explore the different conceptualizations of personal and collective responsibility towards COVID-19 resistance tracing the forms of epistemological authority that come from collective religious, non-religious, and spiritual traditions in Asia and globally. The themes we aim to explore include the following:

  • Definitions and conceptualizations of immunity and protection mobilized around COVID-19 including in traditional and plural medicine
  • The role of religious leaders, religious authorities, and ritual communities in promoting, distributing, or discouraging COVID vaccines, and defining what constitutes a COVID vaccine
  • Ideas about individual and collective responsibility relevant to vaccination and their connection to religio-moral values
  • Entanglements and/or conflicts of religious and secular epistemic authority in relation to COVID vaccines and their material components
  • Connections between vaccine and ritual practice
  • The sensory engagement of the biological, biomoral, gendered, and ritual body in the achievement of the aspired immunity from COVID contagion


This workshop will use a synchronous and asynchronous format that aims to optimize the time and the technology at our disposal to improve the papers and stimulate more interactive discussion. Papers and presentations will be uploaded online 2 weeks before the workshop takes place. This workshop is oriented towards the publication of a Special Issue in a peer-reviewed academic journal of international reputation. Participants will be offered an honorarium.

Panel presenters will be required to submit: 1) a 5,000 word paper, and 2) a 15-minute presentation by 1 October 2022. Each participant will be assigned the role of discussant for another participant’s paper. During the 2-day workshop, authors, discussants, and participants will meet on Zoom for interactive discussion and feedback.

To participate, please send your paper proposal (title, 300-word abstract, 100-word bio-note) using the provided submission form to by 30 April 2022. Successful applicants will be notified by mid-May 2022.


Dr Emily Hertzman 
Dr Ashawari Chaudhuri 
Dr Erica M. Larson 
Dr Carola E. Lorea
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

Contact Information

Valerie Yeo
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

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