Salvage and Salvation: Religion, Disaster Relief, and Reconstruction in Asia

CALL FOR PAPERS – Salvage and Salvation: Religion, Disaster Relief, and Reconstruction in Asia.

Dates: 22 (Thursday) and 23 (Friday) November 2012
Venue: Asia Research Institute, Seminar Room, Tower Block Level 10, 469A Bukit Timah Road, National University of Singapore, Bukit Timah Campus
Organisers: Dr Philip Fountain and Dr Levi McLaughlin

What does it mean to offer salvation in the midst of catastrophe? What dynamics are in play at the intersection of religion and disaster relief in Asia? Over the past few years, Asia has witnessed frequent massive  and high profile disasters, notably the Indian Ocean tsunami (2004), the Kashmir earthquake (2005), Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar (2008), the Pakistan floods of 2010, and most recently the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters in northeast Japan. In the wake of these tragedies – and the numerous smaller-scale disasters that also afflict the region – religious organizations have played pivotal roles in disaster response
initiatives. Millions of relief workers and billions of dollars in aid have been mobilized through their networks. However, despite having a profound impact on the lives of disaster victims, these initiatives have gone largely under-reported, and there has been no comprehensive attempt to present research on religion and relief in contemporary Asia.
‘Salvage and Salvation’ will be the first interdisciplinary conference to bring together researchers, humanitarian workers, and policy makers to address this theme.

Analysis of religion and disaster relief introduces practical and theoretical concerns. Understanding the full ramifications of disaster
requires attention to specific religions involved in recovery and the different positions they assume. Additionally, it cannot be presumed that Asian states are religiously neutral.  Disasters and relief efforts open new forms of communality among affected populations, thereby altering religion and politics and inspiring novel social and spiritual trajectories.  Humanitarian actors and grassroots mobilizations are also deeply implicated in these shifts.  Even self-consciously secular humanitarian organizations inevitably engage with the religious realities they encounter in their disaster responses through varying strategies of collaboration, accommodation, or exclusion of different religious activities. A region-wide comparative approach to disaster and recovery should be concerned with the broadest possible spectrum of what ‘salvation’ may comprise, whether associated with the state or non-governmental actors or whether designated ‘religious’ or ‘secular.’

We are seeking paper presentation proposals that will address the following topics (and related themes) as they relate to the Asian region:

* Analysis of the types of humanitarian work undertaken by Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and other religious groups in response to disasters, including rescue operations, medical and post-traumatic care, fundraising, reconstruction, mitigation, proselytizing, spiritual counseling, and other interventions

* Doctrinal, ritual, clerical, and/or institutional innovations occasioned by religious disaster responses

* Imaginations and perceptions of religion by state actors and humanitarian organizations

* Collaborations between religious organizations, state actors, humanitarian organizations, and community groups in disaster response initiatives

* Emerging transnational networks forged between religious groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), donor organizations, and other actors engaged in disaster responses

* Reconfigurations of local communities following religious and/or secular disaster relief initiatives

* Contrasting visions of ‘salvation’ offered in response to disasters and the ramifications of these visions

Papers from any field in the humanities or social sciences that employ any type of methodology are welcome. We are particularly interested in submissions that employ data from fieldwork. Analytical papers by development practitioners or representatives of religious institutions/groups drawing on field experience relevant to this topic are also encouraged.


Paper proposals must be for original, previously unpublished work.
Selected papers from the conference proceedings will be compiled for an edited volume. Proposals should include a title, abstract (250-300 words), and a brief personal biography (150 words). For more detailed guidelines or questions regarding specific paper proposals, and for obtaining a Paper Proposal Form, please contact the conference organizers.

Please submit all applications to Dr Philip Fountain ( by 15 May 2012.

Successful applicants will be notified by 15 June 2012 and will be required to send a draft paper (5,000-8,000 words) by 15
October 2012.
Travel and accommodation support is available from the Asia Research Institute, depending on need and availability of funds.

Dr Philip FOUNTAIN, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. Email:

Dr Levi MCLAUGHLIN, North Carolina State University. Email:


Ms. Valerie Yeo, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. Email: