Cell phones for the spirits: the circulation of votive paper offerings between Vietnam and Germany
Gertrud Hüwelmeier (Humboldt University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores the sacred life of material goods in late socialist Vietnam and highlights the entanglements between religion, media and materiality across borders.
Paper long abstract:
Religion has been thriving in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam since đổi mới, the onset of market reforms in the late 1980s. Votive paper offerings, part of spiritual and economic well-being, play a crucial role in performing religious practices in the socialist country as well as among diasporic Vietnamese. In urban Hanoi, material objects made from paper are traded in marketplaces and later burned in the streets, in temples and pagodas, in private yards and other places, on special occasions in order to be transmitted to the ancestors. In the past few years, the range of votive paper offerings produced, traded, and sent to the deceased has expanded to include new forms and references to new media. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Hanoi and Berlin, and drawing on recent debates in the role of media in religion and in particular on technologies of mediation, I focus on the use of votive paper offerings in the socio-cultural context of the Vietnamese spirit world. I explore how new media and media technologies are embedded in multilayered processes of mediation in Vietnam and its diasporas. Taking religious practices of burning votive paper offerings as an ethnographic example, this paper aims to contribute to ongoing debates on popular religion and the sacred life of material goods in late socialist Vietnam, on transnational ties, and on entanglements between religion, media and materiality.
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