Seminar: Rising Religious and Ethnic Politics in the Upper Mekong Region
How is the apparent global resurgence of religious and ethnic identity politics playing out in the borderlands of the Upper Mekong Region? How are local, national, and transnational religious and ethnic identities being transformed by and playing a role in the region’s ongoing political and economic integration? This seminar considers these broader issues by examining the post-1980s efforts of ethnic Akha religious and political elites to promote divergent transnational identities of a profoundly religious nature among their roughly 730,000 members residing in the borderlands of Northern Thailand, Eastern Myanmar, Southwest China, and Northwestern Laos.
Akha unification efforts have occurred amidst the region’s post-Cold War transformation from the opium producing battlefields of the Golden Triangle to an international market for resources, labour, and tourism. In particular, the seminar examines the competing efforts of two Akha factions – a self-declared Neo-Traditionalist faction, and an evangelical Baptist faction – to proselytize and promote cross-border religious networks in the larger region. It highlights the ways in which Akha elites’ transnational projects have occurred within, across, and beyond the territorial borders of Thailand, Myanmar, China, and Laos – reflecting their positions as citizens in particular nation states and yet orientations towards larger, transnational worlds in the making.
About the Speaker
Micah Morton is a Visiting Fellow in the Thailand and Myanmar Studies Programmes at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. He completed his Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2015. His research focuses on state-minority relations, religion, ethnicity, and indigeneity in Mainland Southeast Asia and Southwest China. Forthcoming publications include, “Reframing the boundaries of indigenism: State-based ontologies and assertions of distinction and compatibility in Thailand’s Indigenous Peoples’ movement,” in American Anthropologist, and “From Hill Tribes to Indigenous Peoples: The Localization of a Global Movement in Thailand,” in The Journal of Southeast Asian Studies (co-authored with Ian G. Baird).