Negotiating rituals in contemporary Vietnam 

Paul Sorrentino

- completed -

This project intended to study the negotiations surrounding ritual practices in contemporary Vietnam, in a context of suspicion towards religions, combined with a rapid international integration of the country and a tense geopolitical situation. From a theoretical perspective, this research utilized the conceptual tools proposed by Luc Boltanski‘s pragmatic sociology and Bruno Latour‘s anthropology of sciences, providing a useful framework to trace the continuities between ritual action, discourse on ritual, and the effects of ritual on society.

An important body of scholarship has questioned the religious revival observed in Vietnam after the beginning of the Đồi mới policy in 1986. The paradigm of ‘reenchantment’ is applied in that literature. This paradigm describes the resurgence of practices that the war and the revolution had interrupted or made invisible, and the way that these practices adapt to new social needs related to the development of a market economy. However, many works falling within this approach tend to suggest a simple opposition between society and state, between crowds of enthusiastic practitioners and an almighty Communist Party at war against uncontrolled religion, conveying the idea of a revival mechanically triggered by the political opening of the late 1980s. One can only regret the lack of detailed case studies about the complex adjustments between multiple agendas that allow religious practices to revive and inform their specific transformations. In the context of the failure of what Shaun Malarney has called „state functionalism“, i.e., the attempt, by the authorities, to create a new set of rituals contributing to the socialist reform of popular culture, this project will attempt to take into account the multiplicity of agents involved in the revival of ritual practices in Vietnam.

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