189.3 Sensory entitlements, infringements, and religious 'harmony' in everyday life

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 3:06 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Noorman ABDULLAH , Sociology, National University of Singapore, Singapore
In multi-religious and multi-ethnic societies, the state actively seeks constructive engagement with religion in its nation-building agenda to ensure that religious ‘harmony’ and ‘tolerance’ are maintained. At the same time, it simultaneously acknowledges that the realm of religion can often be seen as a site of tension and contestation, particularly over the entitlement to use spaces for religious practice. The ‘battle’ over the access of such religious spaces and religious practices extends into perceived sensorial transgressions where different religious practices infringe on personal and group ‘sensory entitlements’. In line with the rhetoric of religious harmony and religious pluralism in Singapore, this paper attempts to show how the state intervenes in religious practices at the everyday sensuous level. In this context, the political leadership in Singapore has never assumed that religion and politics are distinct spheres of influence and experience. In fact, the government constantly urges faith communities to observe studiously the ground rules for sustained religious and ethnic harmony. Three religious practices that infringe these ‘sensory entitlements’ are critically interrogated in contemporary Singapore – the use of joss-sticks and burning of paper money in ‘Chinese’ religions; the call for prayers in Islam; and Hindu public processions. Through these religious practices and the perceived aural, olfactory and visual transgressions, this paper intends to illustrate how such sensory encounters illustrate the manner in which the state governs the everyday under the potent discourse of ‘harmony’ while at the same time legitimising the existence of such governance for the ‘good’ of all religious communities, thereby rendering its position nebulous.