Christian Identities in Singapore: Religion, Race and Culture between State Controls and Transnational Flows

By Goh, Robbie B. H. | Journal of Cultural Geography, February 2009 | Go to article overview

Christian Identities in Singapore: Religion, Race and Culture between State Controls and Transnational Flows


Goh, Robbie B. H., Journal of Cultural Geography


Christianity in Singapore is caught between the horns of a dilemma: on the one hand it is compelled (like all other religions practised in Singapore) to conform to the state's controls (most obviously in the form of the 'Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act', but also implicitly or explicitly spelt out in various policies on religious space and practices, multiculturalism, and even matters of financial governance and accountability). On the other hand, Christianity (unlike religions with a traditional racial association such as Islam with the Malays, and Buddhism, Taoism and traditional Chinese practices with the Chinese) is also seen as a religion associated with 'outside' or 'Western' cultural influences, one which is obliged to grow its community of adherents at the expense of one of the other race-based religions. This positioning obliges Christianity in Singapore to constantly rationalize and adapt its processes on two fronts, simultaneously to locate itself within the nation as a rooted aspect of the national community, and also to capitalize on its global networks and its affinities to capitalist modernity. In this sense, it constantly has to undergo a version of what Aihwa Ong calls a 'flexible' positioning, creating (or at least appearing to create) a "modernity without deracination" (1999, p. 52). This paper examines some of the key characteristics of this positioning, particularly Christianity's establishment of the discourses and practices of national 'values' such as the Asian family, interfaith dialogue and concerned social development.

Keywords: Christianity; Singapore: race/ethnicity; cultural landscape; policy

State constraints on and regulations of religious practices in Singapore

In Singapore, religion and race are often very closely intertwined, so that the policy and governance affecting the one also, to varying extents, affect the other. As various scholars have noted, Singapore's multicultural policy works through "a process of simplification and symbolic representation" (Chua 1998, p. 190), through which "race becomes 'highly politicized' as an essential ideological category" (Clammer 1998, p. 49). The example that is often quoted is that of the 'mother tongue' language policy: students who are Singaporeans or Permanent Residents are required to study one of the three official mother tongues of Mandarin, Malay and Tamil, although students may appeal to substitute Urdu, Hindi, Gujerati or another such language in place of Tamil (Ministry of Education, 'Mother Tongue Language Policy'). The policy thus has the effect of reinforcing a simplification of race into the 'official' categories; racial identity is pegged on cultural practice (in this case, the learning and use of a 'mother tongue'), so that to be Chinese is to speak Mandarin, and to speak Mandarin is 'Chineseness'.

A similar type of symmetrical identification is obtained with regard to many aspects of the cultural practice of religion in Singapore, where according to the 2000 census of the population approximately 42% of the resident population is Buddhist, just under 15% Muslim, 14% each Christian and professing no religion, 8% Taoist, and 4% Hindu (Department of Statistics 2000a, p. 1). The 2000 census revealed "a strong correlation among ethnicity, home language and ... religion among the Malays and Indians", where "almost all Malay-speaking residents were Muslims while most Tamil-speaking residents were Hindus" (Department of Statistics 2000a, p. 7). Virtually all Malays were Muslims. While Indians practised three main religions--Hinduism, Islam and Christianity--there was a remarkable degree of stability in terms of the distribution of religions within the Indian community from 1980 to 2000, with Hinduism only changing from 56 to 55%, in that period, Islam from 22 to 25% and Christianity remained at 12% (Department of Statistics 2000a, p. 4). This type of statistical stability, where it is obtained, is reinforced by the cultural segmentation within communities: the consistency of Hindu Indians rests largely on the perpetuation of that religion in Tamil-speaking Indian households, who constituted 75% of Hindu adherents--a figure which hardly changed from 1990 to 2000. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Christian Identities in Singapore: Religion, Race and Culture between State Controls and Transnational Flows
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.