Ethnographer Unbound: A/P Vineeta Sinha in two interviews

A/P Sinha talks to The Straits Times about her research on Hinduism and spiritual traffic flows. She also discusses how her research on diasporic communities complicates conventional place-bound ethnography in the International Sociological Association's Journeys through Sociology video interview series.

Singapore, where faiths converge

Oct 26th, 2011, The Straits Times

Look at Deepavali with her keen sociological eye, Dr Vineeta Sinha sees a different lustre now in the festival of lights. New Indian immigrants, who have been arriving since the 1990s, are adding a northern piquancy to the Hindu festival in Singapore. The myths, merrymaking and merchandise of Deepavali vary from north to south India, which was once the principal source of Singapore’s first Hindu migrants.

Indian immigrants from rural Tamil Nadu brought village deities like Muneeswaran with them to Singapore about 180 years ago. Lord Muneeswaran, a spirit and protector of village folk, today enjoys the status of Shiva, a deity in the Hindu trinity, in some local Hindu circles. Not only that, but Muneeswaran has also bounded over religious lines. For 60 years, he has been venerated by some Taoist devotees alongside the Chinese god Tua Pek Kong, Dr Sinha has discovered in her research. The two deities are housed in the Hock Huat Keng Temple in Yishun Industrial Park A.

Such mixing and matching of gods may be a surprise for Singaporeans used to thinking of race and religion in distinct compartments, she observes. ‘But historically, South-east Asia has been a very syncretic space,’ she says. Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Chinese faiths all converged in this region over the centuries. At its best, this confluence results in a fair level of religious openness. This differs from the public perception that the faiths are walled up.

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Vineeta Sinha: Ethnographer Unbound

From interviews of the 22 members of the Executive Committee of the International Sociological Association:
Journeys through Sociology