Beyond Description: Singapore Space Historicity

Beyond Description: Singapore Space Historicity

Beyond Description: Singapore Space Historicity

Beyond Description: Singapore Space Historicity


This text addresses issues of space, historicity, architecture and textuality by focusing on Singapore's singular position in the region and as a global city.


For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.

(Heb 13:14, KJV)

religious movements, religious spaces

Religious practice in Singapore is governed by a fundamental contradiction, consisting in the fact that while it is "constitutionally…a secular society" with "no official religion," at the same time it is far from being an "irreligious or an anti-religious society" (Sheares 1974:3), with a vibrant and pluralistic religious life. in a preliminary report from the 2000 population census, 85 percent of the population professed faith in one religion or another, the religions with the largest followings being Buddhism (43 percent), Christianity (15 percent), and Islam (15 percent; Leow 2000: H7). While this flourishing of (multiple) religions is seen as offering a "richness to individual life" capable of creating a "better citizen," on the other hand it is also seen as posing a potential threat to social unity and harmony, an anxiety reflected in the passing of the Religious Harmony Act in November 1990, an Act which makes it an offense to "cause ill-feelings between different religious groups" (Ministry of Information and the Arts 1992:1). Religious harmony is governed by guidelines which, rather than defining the legality/illegality of precise acts per se, speak to the "feelings" and attitudes ("tolerance and understanding" of other religions, avoiding "ridiculing," "persuasive" manners), which are supposed to guide the interaction of the different races on religious matters (Jayakumar 1987:6).

If religious movements are subordinated to the "feelings" of individuals outside the religious group, then the strategy of religious practice tends towards the creation and consolidation of safe spaces for that practice, rather than the unguarded circulation and dissemination of credos and texts in a campaign of free expansion. in other words, space becomes the consolidation and definition of a particular religious identity which is at some risk in the multiculturalism of Singapore. Religious spaces manifest and contain the religious-cultural motivations and anxieties which create them. It is not surprising that the discussion of religious harmony often turns on metaphors and considerations of space and building: according to then-Minister for Home Affairs S. Jayakumar, the need for religious harmony is justified in part by the fact that we live in a "small, multi-racial densely populated society" (Jayakumar 1987:6). Religious harmony is then meant to function as an "essential pillar for our stability and nation-building,"

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