(In)visibility of Sacred Waste: Asian Perspectives
Digital roundtable co-organised by Valentina Gamberi (Junior Fellow at the Research Centre for Material Culture at Leiden, the Netherlands) and Paulina Kolata (Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for East and Southeast Asian Studies at Lund, Sweden).
In the era of growing concerns over waste and pollution produced in our lives, several scholars of all things sacred began investigating the processes involved in the production, use, and discard of sacred materialities. Sacred waste (Stengs 2014) has emerged as a dynamic and significant area of research across diverse ethnographic contexts and this roundtable zooms in on the conceptual and practical realities of sacred waste in Asia.
While reflecting on sacred residues as traces of the intersubjective interdependences between human worshippers and super-natural forces that are embodied in anthropomorphic iconographies, the participants in this roundtable will explore the (in)visibility of sacred waste across Asia and reflect on the extreme fluidity, volatalibility, and adaptability of sacred power. Bo Wang will draw on his research in Tibet to explore how sacred waste is connected to the notion of personhood, while unpacking the tensions between discard, disgust and preservation. Annaclaudia Martini will further reflect on the affective dimensions and processes of sorting through waste to explore its potential for healing in post-disaster communities in Japan. Trine Brox will then consider the question of “stewardship” and the affective bonds residing within the inherited materiality. Irene Stengs will respond to the panellists’ insights through her research in Thailand, inviting everyone to acknowledge the multilayered potential of sacred waste and the consequences of its force in Asian contexts. The roundtable will therefore consider the dilemma of discarding and “recycling” sacred traces that is part and parcel of our moral economies where loss and decay of sacred power challenge our value systems and ideas of personhood, responsibility, and intersubjective reciprocity.
Bo Wang is Senior User Experience Researcher in the Product Experience, Design and Research Team at Best Buy, the top consumer electronics retailer in North America. Previously, a senior postdoctoral researcher at the University of Lausanne.
Annaclaudia Martini is Assistant Professor in Human Geography at the University of Bologna, Italy.
Trine Brox is the Director of the Center for Contemporary Buddhist Studies and Associate Professor at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
Irene Stengs is Professor by special appointment ‘Anthropology of Ritual and Popular Culture’ at the Vrije Universiteit (Amsterdam) and Senior Researcher at the Meertens Institute (Amsterdam).