News from Southeast Asia
Funded by the Social Science Research Thematic Grant of the Singapore Ministry of Education, Terence Chong at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute and Daniel Goh at the National University of Singapore set out to conduct research on the growth of Pentecostalism in Southeast Asia between 2016 and 2020. They had three main objectives.
First, they wanted to understand the reasons for this growth and the ways in which these churches navigate the changing political and economic environment. Second, they sought to examine these churches’ participation in national debates and identify the strategies used to deal with their marginal status. Finally, the researchers were interested in tracing transnational connections between the churches within Southeast Asia and beyond.
The fascinating results of their study are summarized in the following essay. They begin by charting the waves of Pentecostalism in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore, thus providing the wider context for its non-linear growth. They then introduce the term ‘minoritarian politics’ to explain the way in which this mostly ethnic Chinese and wealthy Christian community advances its interests.
Finally, the authors provide a more nuanced understanding of the phenomenon of mall Christianity, moving beyond the idea that these megachurches celebrate consumer capitalism. The study finds that there are, in fact, various practical and strategic reasons for their choice of location depending on the country and demographics.
In all, the article provides a timely and refined description of the way in which Pentecostal megachurches in a number of Southeast Asian countries respond organically and strategically to the challenges of the state, other religions and the market.
Dr. Oh Su-Ann is the regional editor for News for Southeast Asia section of IIAS newsletter and Visiting Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.
Navigating Hostile Landscapes: Pentecostal Megachurches in Southeast Asia
By Terence Chong and Daniel Goh