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Past Events

“Late Democratization” in Pacific Asia



Professor Mark R. Thompson

Lee Kong Chian NUS-Stanford Distinguished Fellow


Date:                Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Time:                3.00 p.m.

Venue:              Seminar Room B, Level 1, The Shaw Foundation Building, AS7, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, NUS


Probably nowhere has the “endogenous” paradigm of modernization theory - that democratization follows industrialization  -  been as celebrated as in Pacific Asia (East and Southeast Asia). Using a simplified version of post-war modernization theory, it is suggested that democratic transitions in this Pacific Asia region have been “driven by growth.” An influential narrative is that successful “late industrialization” in Gerschenkron’s sense has created economies too complex, a social structures too differentiated, and (middle class-dominated) civil societies too politically conscious for non-democratic rule to be sustained. Fulfilling these theoretical expectations, two of the Asian “tiger” economies, South Korea and Taiwan, democratized only after substantial industrialization had been achieved. Yet closer examination of the region’s political record suggests that such “late democratizers” have been the exception rather than the rule. Some countries have democratized much earlier in the developmental process - that is before high per capita incomes were achieved (Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand). Others (Malaysia and, particularly, Singapore) are too rich not to be democratic from a modernization perspective (although Malaysia may be on the brink of democratic transition). Rather than “late democratization” being the only road taken, the political experience of Pacific Asia supports Barrington Moore’s thesis that there are other “paths to the modern world.”

Degrees of democratic consolidation in Pacific have also varied from the predictions of modernization theory of the “exogenous” variety which suggest that prosperity stabilizes democracy. Without doubt, South Korea and Taiwan, the richest new democracies in the region, have also been the most stable. The still economically developing Philippines and Thailand have, on the other hand, been notably unstable. But against the predictions of the success of democratic stability being linked only to wealth, Indonesia, which is poorer per capita than these neighboring new democracies, has been surprisingly free of regime-threatening conflict and is considered by many experts to be a consolidated democracy. It will be argued that the different paths countries took to democracy provide a better explanation of why some democracies in the region have consolidated but not others.


Mark R. Thompson is professor of political science at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany. He is resident as Lee Kong Chian NUS/Stanford Distinguished Fellow on Southeast Asia from September-December 2008. A Chicago native, he took his first degree in religious studies at Brown University followed by postgraduate work in Cambridge and then at the University of the Philippines. Fascinated by the anti-Marcos struggle, Thompson wrote his dissertation at Yale University on opposition to the highly “sultanistic” Marcos regime in Philippines. After moving to Germany, he witnessed popular uprisings in East Germany and Eastern Europe, inspiring him to work on the conceptualization of “democratic revolutions” in a series of essays later published as a book (Routledge 2004). His current research is also inspired by earlier work on the Philippines. In the Pacific-Asian context, the Philippines seem to have democratized “too early” as a transition occurred before substantial industrialization had been achieved. The regional pattern has been one of “late democratization” in which developmentalist authoritarians argue that democracy must be delayed (at least) until their countries have modernized economically. His study is based on a series of dyadic comparisons - between Burma and North Korea, the Philippines and Thailand,  Indonesia and Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong, as well as China and Vietnam.




Blurred but Bright Genres: New Directions in the Study of Religion and Modernity

Professor Robert Hefner




Date:           Thursday, 13 November 2008

Time:           3.00 p.m.

Venue:          Meeting Room A, Research Clusters, Level 6, The Shaw Foundation Building, AS7, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, NUS.


A generation ago the topic of religion had moved to a position of relative unimportance in the comparative study of modern societies.  The reigning model of social development in modernization theory stipulated that, as a society becomes modern, the role of religion declines until religion either disappears (“disenchantment”) or is privatized.  Events over the past fifteen years, and especially since the early 2000s, have shown that this model of modernity is deeply flawed.  But these same events have not provided a new consensus on the question of religion’s place in modern politics and culture.


In this presentation, I suggest that the comparative study of religion is in an unstable but unusually creative transition.  On questions of religion and modernity, ours is an age of, in Clifford Geertz’s phrase, “blurred genres.”   Scholars from, not only religious studies, but political sociology, comparative politics, cultural studies, and other fields are revisiting the question of religion and society, and offering up new and sometimes startlingly unexpected insights into the nature of religion in modern politics and society.  I review some of the most important of these findings, and I suggest that we do indeed stand on the threshold of a new and important breakthrough in the comparative study of religion, politics, and modern culture.


Robert William Hefner, Professor of Anthropology and Associate Director of the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs at Boston University, will be in residence as Lee Kong Chian NUS-Stanford Distinguished Fellow on Southeast Asia from July-November 2008. Professor Hefner has been Associate Director of the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs at Boston University, where he has directed the program on Islam and civil society since 1991.  Hefner has carried out research on religion and politics in Southeast Asia for the past thirty years, and has authored or edited a fourteen books, as well as several major policy reports for private and public foundations.  His most recent books include, Schooling Islam: The Culture and Politics of Modern Muslim Education (edited with Muhammad Qasim Zaman, Princeton 2007); ed., Remaking Muslim Politics: Pluralism, Contestation, Democratization (Princeton 2005), ed., and Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia (Princeton 2000). Hefner is also the invited editor for the sixth volume of the forthcoming New Cambridge History of Islam, Muslims and Modernity: Society and Culture since 1800. Hefner is currently writing a book on Islamic education, democratization, and political violence in Indonesia.  The research and writing locate the Indonesian example in the culture and politics of the broader Muslim world.  His book also revisits the the question of the role of religious and secular knowledge in modernity





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