The Great Unity: Hoà Hảo Charity and Social solidarity in the Frontier

seminar image

Event details

PhD Seminar

Date & time

Thursday 08 August 2019


Baldessin Precinct Building


Duy Thanh Vo


Duy Thanh Vo

Duy Thanh Vo will present his PhD Pre-submission Seminar on the topic of The Great Unity: Hoà Hảo Charity and Social solidarity in the Frontier - 10-11.30 Thursday 8 August Tardis Room, Baldessin.

The Great Unity: Hoà Hảo Charity and Social solidarity in the Frontier

The Hoà Hảo is a millenarian Buddhist sect that emerged in the Mekong delta on the eve of the Second World War. Early writings on the Hòa Hảo situated its emergence in the context of Vietnam’s wars of decolonization and drew attention to sectarians’ tense relationships with successive states, and other political, ethnic and religious groups in their locality. Previous scholars observed that the Hòa Hảo built solidarity between newcomers and strangers in a socially amorphous frontier, but was, at the same time, parochial, and prone to fanaticism and violence towards other groups. Such portraits may reflect conditions in some situations in a time of war but are not based on observation of everyday social relations, or on the life of sectarians during peacetime. The research for this paper, a chapter of my PhD thesis, draws upon three months of ethnographic observations and oral conversations with Hòa Hảo sectarians in a herbal clinic in Vĩnh Điều, a frontier commune on the Vietnam-Cambodia border. It examines relations between a Hoà Hảo healer and her patients, including ethnic Khmers, Cambodians, and retired communist cadres. The chapter explores how healing in the Hòa Hảo clinic is inclusive and involves the participation of groups with whom the sect formerly was in conflict. The paper finds that Hoà Hảo continues to build social solidarity in a pluralist frontier region but does so for a more inclusive set of relationships than previously recognized. By doing so, the chapter describes Hòa Hảo charity as an example of vernacular development, a grassroots indigenous and informal alternative to top-down or formal development. The herbal clinic is a means by which this socially engaged faith demonstrates a capability to integrate disparate social groups and engage them in a united social network, construed in Hòa Hảo philosophy as“Thế giới Đại đồng”, or “The Great Unity.”

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