I. Globalization of Religious and Ethnic Networks

Indian and Chinese religious networks in South-East Asia

Under the directorship of Kenneth Dean and Peter van der Veer

This project is in collaboration with the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore

Network, as used in this project, is nothing more than a descriptive term for the net-like ties that link people locally, regionally, nationally, and transnationally. These networks can be based on ‘natural’ ties, such as kinship, or on extensions of such ties, as in ethnicity, but they also can be based on rituals and traditions of belief and practice. This project focuses on how religion enables the movement of people from South India and from South China to South-East Asia (especially Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore). One of the important elements of these studies is to show the specific ways in which religions enable, as well as limit, specific forms of networking across South-East Asia. Another important aspect is the comparison of Chinese patterns of connecting business and religious networking and Indian patterns of doing that. The project studies the historical evolution, the internal organization, the flow of investment, modes of philanthropy, as well as forms of ritual activity that characterize these networks. It seeks to build on efforts to disaggregate national and regional frameworks, and to explore specific axes of circulation and exchange across regions, leading to the creation of new social formations across the entire range of Asian connection.


South-West China and South-East Asia

In 2013 a Program was started to study the new possibilities for trans-border networking of religious and ethnic minorities as a result of the political, economic, and infrastructural expansion of China into the regions of South-East Asia that share borders with China. The national borders in the area are of relatively recent origin as part of the nation-state formation of China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. On all sides of the borders one finds a host of nationalities or minorities that are not part of the ethnic majority that constitutes these nation-states. Some of these nationalities have their own national aspirations. In some cases there is an overlap between ethnicity and marginalized religion. The region is rich in resources, most importantly water resources. In short, this is a border region with a highly diverse population and a history of violent conflict, militarization, and fragmented pacification. The most important of these conflicts in the past was the global Cold War, the Vietnamese-American War, and the ensuing Vietnam-China War. Today the most important conflicts are about control over resources.  The political and economic conditions in the area are rapidly changing. This program studies the effects of these changes on new forms of networking in the area. It compares the state policies of the various nation-states towards their minorities and the possibilities of these minorities to use transnational networks to enlarge their playing field.


Asian Diasporas


Religious networks in a globalizing world (completed)


Emeritus Group Religious Diversity

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity

Hermann-Föge-Weg 11
37073 Göttingen


II. Urban Aspirations

Urbanization is a world historical trend in which 10 percent of the world population was urban in the beginning of the twentieth century, while it is expected that 70 percent will live in cities in 2050.

This is a project that studies the relation between the urban environment in globalizing world cities and the formation of ethnic and religious aspirations. This is not a project that surveys quantitatively urban ethnicity and religious identity. The concept of “identity” with its static connotations has had limiting effects on the study of urban transformations, somewhat similar to the concept of “kinship” in earlier studies of society. We use the concept of “aspiration to point at the ideational character of many of the processes that effect cityscapes and urban movements. This is true for city planning, squatting, migration, gentrification, as well as the extraordinary role played by media and creative arts in world cities. The project started with a comparison of religious aspirations in Shanghai (Yuqin Huang, Weishan Huang, Rumin Luo, Sinwen Lau), Singapore (Jayeel Cornelio), Mumbai (in collaboration with Tata Institute for Social Studies and PUKAR), and Seoul (in collaboration with the Seoul Institute). It has resulted in a Handbook of Religion and the Asian City. Aspiration and Urbanization in the Twenty-First Century, University of California Press, forthcoming 2015, in which many of the past and present fellows have published an article. The work on Shanghai has ended. The work on Singapore is continued under the religious networks rubric. The two continuing parts of the urban aspirations focus are on Mumbai (without collaborating partners) and on Seoul.

Urban aspirations in Mumbai



Urban aspirations in Seoul: Religion and megacities in comparative studies (2012-2017)



Urban aspirations in Shanghai (completed)



Urban aspirations in Singapore (completed)


© 2022 Peter van der Veer