Vineeta Sinha in Conversation - Temple Tracks: Labour, Piety and Railway Construction in Asia

Event time: 
Wednesday, April 10, 2024 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm
Henry R. Luce Hall (LUCE ), 202 See map
34 Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511
Event description: 

Temple Tracks presents a textured tale of the complex ties between labour, mobility and piety. Here, I use the history of colonial railway construction in British Malaya to narrate the interlocking accounts of Indian, Hindu labour migrations into British Malaya and the sacralization of these landscapes by labouring communities in building shrines and temples for Hindu deities in the vicinity of labour lines, railway stations, locomotive sheds, railway workshops and simply along the railway tracks. Strikingly, the migrant labour who laid the railway tracks and maintained them were also pioneering religion makers. This specific case of railway construction and temple-building enables me to demonstrate the intriguing entanglements of technology and piety on the one hand, and labour and religion-making on the other - and to retell railway histories by centring the ‘labouring’ and ‘non-labouring’ lives of labour. Using ethnographic methods and a historical perspective, Temple Tracks critically outlines the interlink of railway construction in colonial and post-colonial Asia, as well as the anthropology of infrastructure and transnational mobilities with religion. In Malaysia and Singapore, evidence of religion-making and railway-building from a colonial past is visible in multiple modes and media as memories, recollections and ‘traces’.

Vineeta Sinha is a professor and teaches at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the National University of Singapore. Her research interests include Hindu religiosity in the Diaspora, intersections of religion, commodification and consumption processes, interface of religion and materiality, religion-state encounters in colonial and post-colonial contexts, Eurocentric and Androcentric critique of social science disciplinary canons, and producing decolonial pedagogies. Her publications include the following books: Temple Tracks: Labour, Piety and Railway Construction in Asia (2023), Southeast Asian Anthropologies (co-edited with Eric Thompson, 2019), Sociological Theory Beyond the Canon (co-authored with Syed Farid Alatas, 2017), Singapore Chronicles: INDIANS (2015), Food, Foodways and Foodscapes: Culture, Community and Consumption in Post-Colonial Singapore (co-edited with Lily Kong, 2015), Religion-State Encounters in Hindu Domains: From the Straits Settlements to Singapore (2011), Religion and Commodification: Merchandising Diasporic Hinduism (2010) and A New God in the Diaspora? Muneeswaran Worship in Contemporary Singapore (2005).