The Newsletter 68 Summer 2014

Engaging the spirit world

Niels Mulder

Reviewed publication:
Endres, K.W. & A. Lauser (eds.) 2011. Engaging the Spirit World; Popular Beliefs and Practices in Modern Southeast Asia, New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books, ISBN 9780857453587 (hb)

As the contributions to this collection rekindled my early experiences ‘in the field’, reading through the ten chapters of Engaging the Spirit World was great fun. As the greenhorn I was, I laughed at my initial encounter with ‘spirits’ (phii) in Thailand, which so upset my girlfriend that she slapped me in the face. It spelled the end to my fun. I not only learned to take beliefs seriously – whether western, eastern, religious, or political – but also to realise that for the believers concerned these represented their living experience. In that sense, beliefs are as tangible as a bowl of rice and have to be explored concretely before we, ‘servants of science’, put any ‘theoretical’ à priori on top of them.