Stone Masters: Power Encounters in Mainland Southeast Asia
edited by Holly High
Stones and those who speak for and to them are an important focus of animist religious practice in Southeast Asia, sometimes integrated into world religions, and sometimes not. Recent study of animism sees animist ritual not as a metaphor for ‘a community’ or commonly held values, but as a way of forming and maintaining relationships with occult presences understood to be very real. City pillars, statues, megaliths, termite mounds, mountains, rocks found in forests, stones that have been moved to shrines, all these make their appearance in this book, as do the territorial cults which can form around them. The contributors extend and deepen the recent exciting literature on animism to form a new analytical perspective on these cults across mainland Southeast Asia. And they do so in intriguing ways. First, contributors play off the insights of the under-appreciated French scholar Paul Mus, who centered his ideas of religious change in Southeast Asia around notions of the power intrinsic to territory. Second, contributors look at relations between spirits and the state, a connection not usually developed in the literature on religion and the state or the literature on animism. And thirdly, this is not simply a collection of exemplary ethnographies, but a deeply comparative volume that develops its ideas through a meshwork of regional entanglements, parallels and differences, before entering into a dialogue with debates on power, mastery and the social theory of animism globally.
As the ritual thanking of traditional guardians of a place is becoming more common in many societies, the lessons of the stone masters of mainland Southeast Asia make compelling reading, and open up new perspectives on religion, and ideas of territoriality and belonging.
“A rare book: an organically integrated collection, with a strong theme. While it is unapologetically ethnological, Stone Masters engages cosmopolitan anthropological theories with great effect. It has a depth which anthropologists of other areas, working on analogous themes, can feed on.”
- Luiz Costa, Associate Professor, Department of Cultural Anthropology, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Holly High is an anthropologist and associate professor at Deakin University.
Publication Year: 2022
346pp, 229 x 152mm
46 b/w images, 3 tables