Rituals of evidence: media, faith, and death in the Philippines

Scott MacLochlainn


Scott is currently conducting a research project on death in Manila, funded in part by a Wenner-Gren post-Ph.D. research grant. This is an ethnographic study of how death and its rituals have increasingly become contested spaces over what constitutes evidence. It is centered in the increased visuality of death in the contemporary moment in the Philippines. Situated amidst a backdrop of widespread extrajudicial killings since 2016, this project examines a number of spaces surrounding death: from Christian ritual prayer and mortuary practices, to murder photographers and the media markets of death, to the legal and state spheres in which normative definitions of death are contested and transformed. In doing so, it aims to bring together an ethnographic and theoretical focus on the mediations and rituals of death as evidential forms. This research reveals not only how religious communities in the urban context of Manila are responding to violence and the mediatization of death, but also how they are actively engaging with these contexts as spaces of religious interpretation and ritual. Theoretically framing the intersecting practices of media, faith, and death through the concept of evidence, this research contributes to contemporary scholarly conversations on contested media spaces of knowledge, pluralisms of religion and publics, and novel forms of state control. Moreover, this research seeks to successfully move to consolidate multiple scales of religious practice, ranging from a finely-grained ethnographic examination of funeral rites, cemetery workers and mourning families, to the broader spaces legal and state spaces in which religious meaning circulates. 

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