Neoliberalism, Social Christianity and the State in Singapore

Monday, July 14, 2014: 10:30 AM
Room: Harbor Lounge B
Oral Presentation
Matthias DEININGER , Cluster of Excellence:, University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany

This paper explores the complex interrelationship between Christian organizations and neoliberal policies in the context of the island-city-state of Singapore. It departs from an understanding that rather than globally homogenizing, neoliberal ideas, practices and policies are embedded in specific socio-economic and politico-institutional settings and thus bring forth local variegation and hybrid forms that are mutually constituted and evolving. In this regard, the Singaporean neoliberal model of governance can serve as an interesting case study as it manages to combine two seemingly opposing logics: high levels of state intervention and regulation on the one side and the strategy of pursuing economic growth at all costs through deregulation, liberalization and privatization on the other. What emerges is a type of hybrid state, in the form of the neoliberal-developmental state, where neoliberal logics of the free market and the ideal of national communitarianism are deeply intertwined.

This form of governance has affected the relationship between Christian organizations and the state in considerable ways. On the one hand, the Singaporean government exercises strong bureaucratic and legal control over the functioning of all religious matters, therefore limiting the freedom of action for Christian organizations. Yet, on the other hand, Christianity is recognized and valued as a constructive social and stabilizing moral force within the multi-confessional and multi-ethnic Singaporean polity, which in turn has led to public-private partnerships between government agencies and Christian organizations. This paper argues that Christian organizations in Singapore have become to function as important non-state sites that do not negate neoliberal restructuring per se, but re-embed neoliberal logics by addressing social needs and providing certain social services that have gone unmet by the state. Empirical examples will be given from my ongoing Ph.D. project on Pentecostal organizations in Singapore.