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‘Mapping a Field: Forms of Hindu Religiosity in Malaysia and Singapore’



This short paper surveys the scholarship on Hinduism as a dynamic, ‘living’ religious tradition in two nation-states in contemporary Southeast Asia, i.e., Malaysia and Singapore. Since the early decades of the 20th century, archaeologists and historians have expressed enthusiastic curiosity about longer-term historical interactions between India and parts of Southeast Asia, in particular the question of how to account for the presence of ‘Indic traces’ in these regions. The various debates about the modes and methods through which Hindu and Buddhist elements ‘originally’ interfaced with and were embedded in Southeast Asian civilizational contexts continue to engage scholars. In contrast, relatively less scholarly effort has been directed at theorizing contemporary manifestations of Hinduism in Southeast Asian regions. Although the field is a marginal one, there is a body of scholarship that has documented the religious landscape of Hindu communities in some Southeast Asian regions. I begin with a general observation and a crucial starting point for this paper: that Hinduism as a practiced religion is vigorously sustained in, and has a legitimate and legal presence within broadly secular, state frameworks of Singapore and Malaysia. Certainly, there are important differences in the ways that Hindu communities negotiate these socio-cultural and political landscapes, yet I argue that a common discussion is possible and allows me to abstract shared trends as well as highlight divergences in the religious landscape of these two Hindu communities.