Harmony As “Repressive”: Sensory Politics, Religion and the Everyday

Monday, 11 July 2016: 14:30
Location: Seminar 33 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Noorman ABDULLAH, National University of Singapore, Singapore
In the context of urban and cosmopolitan cities with diverse, intensified migrant flows, questions pertaining to religious freedom and rights have been circulated and debated through different social actors. The potential for religious tensions and conflict has been pitched as a source of anxiety in such sites, given that religious diversity cannot in itself guarantee racial and religious harmony. This paper unpacks the repressive character of “harmony” in multicultural and multi-religious societies through the lens of the senses and everyday life. The cases presented empirically looks at Singapore’s colonial and postcolonial conditions in relation to a range of religious practices, and how such logics and discourses have been politically appropriated to institutionalise and legitimise repressive mechanisms. What happens when everyday religiosity expressed through rituals that involve sound, smell and other sensory modalities infringe on the sensory “rights” of other groups in such multicultural, multi-religious contexts? How does this ‘infringement’ reconfigure talk about racial and religious harmony? The paper therefore draws attention to the sensory micropolitics of friction in the everyday that often ostensibly appears less dramatic, less serious and less pressing than the spectacle afforded to religious wars, but which nevertheless is very real and challenging. At a broader level, the cases are connected to the processes of rationalisation, standardisation and bureaucratisation of sensescapes in modern, urban Singapore – invoking the discourse of the “greater good” by the state vis-à-vis the project of hegemonic consensus.