Accepted paper:

Tracing religious experiences, beliefs and practices through megaliths: two case studies from Sumatra


Dominik Bonatz (Freie Universitaet Berlin)

Paper short abstract:

This paper presents phenomenological, iconographic, contextual, behavioral, and landscape archaeological approaches to reconstruct religious experiences, beliefs and practices through megaliths erected in two prehistoric communities of West-Sumatra.

Paper long abstract:

In an archaeological approach towards religion megaliths can be considered as a specific class of objects which are not exclusively linked to religion but in many instances reflect religious experiences, beliefs and practices. Following Clifford Geertz's general definition of religion, megaliths in particular may have acted as religious symbols to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in humans by clothing these conceptions with such an aura of faculty that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic

Two recent research projects on the megalithic complexes in Kerinci and in Mahat both in West-Sumatra provide the materials for an approach which analyses the phenomenology and iconography of the stones (i.e., their 'religious' symbolism), their context and function (i.e., the social aspect of 'religion'), their practice (i.e., the ritual aspect of 'religion') and their landscape (i.e. the powerful aspect of 'religion'). Furthermore, it will be asked how far these analytic instruments can help to understand the religious system in a Southeast Asian pre-state society without institutionalized forms of religion, and, finally, what can be said about the definition of religion in such an organization.

panel P09
Archaeologies of religion: material approaches to the study of belief systems in Southeast Asia