Colloquium with Dr. Hien Nguyen, 2003-04 Postdoctoral Fellow at the UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies
Since 1946 the Vietnamese constitution has guaranteed freedom of religion which, broadly defined, includes a variety of folk beliefs. At the same time, the State has also been officially committed to doing away with religious practices that are deemed “superstitious.” The resulting tensions are extremely complex and difficult to reconcile. This lecture will focus on the relationship between the State and popular religions, paying special attention to folk practices that have been revitalized since Renovation (late 1980s). Official decrees and instructions that intend to restrict religious folk practices make a sharp distinction between “folk beliefs” and “superstitious practices.” For example, Vietnamese people are free to venerate their ancestors as a legitimate folk belief, while other practices, such as Len Dong spirit possession rituals, are considered superstitious practices. The lecture will highlight legal definitions of acceptable and unacceptable religious practices and then, using data collected during fieldwork, will show how individuals/practitioners negotiate these contradictions, finding ways to legitimize their religious activities.
Hien Thi Nguyen is a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies. She received her B.A. in linguistics and language in Russia, and her M.A. (1999) and Ph.D. (2002) in folklore at Indiana University, USA. She was a lecturer at Vietnam National University in Hanoi from 1990-1996. She worked as a postdoctoral associate at the American Museum of Natural History in New York during 2002-2003 assisting them with their pathbreaking Vietnam conference and “Journeys” exhibition project. Author of a number of articles on Vietnamese folklore and shamanism, she is currently co-editing the book Mother Goddesses and Spirit Mediums: Popular Ritual and Spirit Possession in Contemporary Vietnam.
Cost: Free and open to the public.
Sponsor(s): Center for Southeast Asian Studies