Submission note: A thesis submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy [to the] Sociology Program, School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University, Bundoora.
This thesis seeks to understand the re-emergence of spiritual beliefs and practices, albeit with modification and creative borrowings, in Vietnam’s post-Renovation era. It does so by considering three currently active new religious groups in Vietnam: the School of Teaching Goodness; the Way of Hồ Chí Minh as the Jade Buddha; and the Tố Dương’s Field of Extrasensory Perception. Fieldwork was conducted with the founders/leaders and followers of these groups in order to analyse their emergence, organisation, doctrines, rituals and practices. These groups appear to be thriving despite the cautious approach of the authorities, and criticisms in the media and from some established religious organisations. The thesis argues that these groups are part of a process of religious reconfiguration caused by the intensified interactions between the religious and non-religious spheres in a rapidly modernising Vietnam. Within the religious sphere, for example, these new religious groups develop new syncretic forms of worship that combine the familiar vocabularies of Buddhism and folk spiritual practices in innovative ways. They also challenge established religions by providing alternative pathways to salvation. Without the religious sphere, the three new religious groups I discuss seek to engage with the political sphere in order to affect state regulation of religious minorities and to gain legitimacy by making reference to familiar figures, such as Hồ Chí Minh. My empirical findings also indicate how new religious groups re-enchant the economic and the public sphere. The argument made in the thesis is that the emergence of these and other similar groups does not simply equate to so many new religions in Vietnam. Rather, as I demonstrate, post-1986 new religious groups have changed the shape of the religious sphere in Vietnam, redefined the relationship between new religions and state-recognised religious organisation, and offered options for the Vietnamese to continuously adapt religion to modernity
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