Session Abstract: Using anthropological and archival research, aesthetic analysis, and contemporary theories of virtual ritual, this panel explores the intersections between religion and technology in Asian cultures. The papers in this panel move away from an instrumentalist approach to religion, wherein religion and technology equal a religious outcome. Instead, we explore some of the various ways through which lived religion becomes technologized and technology gets embedded into religiosity. Saumya Agarwal demonstrates how representations of trains influenced the perspectival aesthetics and representational practices of deities in India’s Sekhawati region, from 1750-1950. This practice emerged not as an interstitial stage in the acculturation of technology, but from within the region’s social hierarchies. Focusing on cinematic special effects, Anu Thapa argues that the aesthetics of Hindi commercial cinema is an instance of techno-religious realism—a sensorial aesthetic experience that intertwines lived religion, audio-visual media, and the social body. From the early mythologicals (1920s) to contemporary sci-fi, this globally popular cinema has consistently triangulated the theological, the technological and the anthropological. Focusing on Chinese ritual of ancestral worship, Ori Tavor explores issues of corporeality and authenticity in online services like iVeneration, which combines a physical columbarium that houses the remains of the deceased with 2D and 3D Virtual Reality interfaces. Ultimately, the papers in this panel challenge notions of secularism that insist on separating religion and technology.
Paper Presenter: Anu Thapa – Georgia Institute of Technology
Paper Presenter: Saumya Agarwal – Heidelberg University
Paper Presenter: Ori Tavor – University of Pennsylvania