The nationalization of religion:
Cultural performances and the youth of
Soka Singapore

by Jayeel Serrano Cornelio

Working Papers WP 13-17
October 2013
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

Full text: pdf

Soka is known in Singapore for its cultural performances in events such as the National Day Parade and Chingay. This is part of Soka’s attempts to present itself as a cultural organization working for peace and progress in Singapore. Participating in these performances is common among the youth of Soka. In this paper I focus on young people’s participation as a form of religious patriotism. For them, it is about sending a message that individual and collective struggles can be overcome and that peace and harmony can be fostered. I then analyze these nuances in terms of the nationalization of religion, which is defined here as the process in which the secularist interests of the state are articulated and enacted by religious entities participating in cultural performances. Put differently, such cultural performances by religious entities are shrouded in a nationalistic character that renders the religious significantly invisible and the prevailing political order unquestioned.

Keywords: nationalization of religion, religious patriotism, religious nationalism, engaged Buddhism, Reformist Buddhism, youth volunteerism, Soka Gakkai, Singapore, youth and religion, cultural performance, carnival

Jayeel Serrano Cornelio is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity. He is also Assistant Professor in the Development Studies Program and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines. His publications deal with youth, religion, and education. Apart from the youth of Soka Gakkai, Jayeel’s other postdoctoral project is on Christianity and young adulthood in Singapore.