Year

2016

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of Humanities and Social Inquiry

Abstract

This thesis investigates the cult of village guardian deities in the lives of the villagers in the Red River delta in contemporary Vietnam. The veneration of guardian deities once worked as a vehicle for the feudal dynasties, who legitimized the cult in order to exercise control at village level, both sacredly and secularly, as the cult, to a great extent, helped construct social morality in accordance with Confucian ideology. In recent years, especially since the launch of the Renovation in 1986, Vietnam has experienced a revitalization of popular religion in general and of the village rituals and festivals in particular. By examining the ritual process, organization, and festival activities, the thesis asks what social, cultural, and political bases there are that permit the cult to exist and evolve and what values the cult provides to meet the villagers’ spiritual and recreational needs within the context of village transformation in contemporary Vietnam.

As a work of cultural history, with an oral history and ethnographic component, the thesis argues that the cult of village guardian deities has revived as a form of popular religion since it serves the interests of both the Party-State and local communities in consolidating national identity and local autonomy respectively. Moreover, the revitalization of the cult has also benefited from the reform of the cultural and religious policies of the Party-State of Vietnam in building Vietnamese culture and upholding cultural heritage.

The thesis seeks to make a contribution to the current scholarship of the resurgence of popular religion by providing new insights into the culturally dynamic, socially sophisticated, and contested sphere of a particular form of folk beliefs in contemporary Vietnam. In addition, the thesis works as a vehicle for international scholars and readers to pursue a deeper understanding of Vietnamese tradition and culture through the lens of the cult of village guardian deities.

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