I’m quite thrilled to announce that my colleagues and I will be in Boston next March for the 2023 Association for Asian Studies conference to participate in a roundtable discussion panel on the ‘Labour of Piety in Southeast Asia’.
This roundtable discussion focuses on an under-examined aspect of religious life that is, piety as labour, in particular its multifarious forms – emotional/affective, social, legal, and economic. It proposes a departure from previous frameworks of piety as performance. Saba Mahmood regards piety as an embodied performance, a series of conscious enactments that engage the body in ‘specific gestures, styles, and formal expressions’ to ‘realise a particular modality of being and personhood’.
Based on this understanding, embodied performance is a means towards cultivating the right kind of emotional and psychological state conducive for worship. It is curious, however, that her discussion of these everyday efforts towards ethical dispositions lacks any emphasis on them as work or labour to produce certain desired individual and collective outcomes, immaterial or otherwise.
From the emotion work of wifely obedience in Islam, the queer work of progressive Islamic education to the hidden labour of hijab manufacturers, we discuss several key questions: in what way is labour and personal piety productively connected? are daily practices of piety a form of work and labour? If so, what kinds of value do they accrue? What does it mean for pious labour to be queer/queered? Is there an ‘economy’ of piety? The roundtable discussion primarily focuses on ethnographic case studies in Southeast Asia, where regional religious transformations have for decades collided and converged with the global restructuring of labour and capital. We seek to engage with various conceptual understandings of ‘labour’ and ‘work’ from different disciplinary traditions less typical to religious studies to find new ways of grounding piety to material and immaterial resources that underpin everyday life.
Our discussion on piety as labour and work proposes to shed light on the gendered, classed, and racialised division of labour necessary for accomplishing piety and to put the social back into the economy of religious life.
Organiser/Discussant: Alicia Izharuddin
Chair: Associate Professor Carla Jones (University of Colorado, Boulder)
Discussants: Dr. Diego Garcia Rodriguez (University of Sussex), Dr. Annisa Beta (University of Melbourne), and Dr. Nurul Huda Mohd Razif (Kyoto University)