Contemporary Vietnamese Religions: From the Early Modern Period to Ultra-Modern Expressions

Pascal Bourdeaux, École Pratique des Hautes Études

George E. Dutton. A Vietnamese Moses: Philiphê Bỉnh and the Geographies of Early Modern Catholicism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2017. 352 pp. $40 (paper); free e-book.

Ngô thi Thanh Tâm. The New Way: Protestantism and the Hmong in Vietnam. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016. 240 pp. $50 (cloth).

Janet Alison Hoskins. The Divine Eye and the Diaspora: Vietnamese Syncretism Becomes Transpacific Caodaism. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2015. 304 pp. $65 (cloth); $32 (paper).

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In order to jettison strictly Western conceptions of the “religious question,” an epistemological renewal has taken place over the last few decades. In the case of Vietnam, scholarship needed to be freed from three constraints: colonial domination, wartime politicization of religious forces, and the bureaucratization of religious organizations since the establishment of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. There has been a redefinition of theoretical and institutional frameworks for research on religious studies, as well as increased international cooperation. The field of religious studies remains, of course, subject to numerous ideological constraints, whether that pressure emanates from the state, from religious communities, or from international organizations within civil society. Access to sources and fieldwork research is often difficult or limited, but the vitality of religious life in Vietnam is undeniable. Membership in religious organizations is increasing, impressive new temples are being built, and debates swirl around new spiritual practices. As a result, religion is no longer a marginal topic that is solely concentrated on relations with the state. Religion has again become a social fact—a focus of scholarly interest within the social sciences and humanities—as shown by the historiographical evolution of the field, and, specifically, by the three works under review here...