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Seminar on Rising Religious and Ethnic Politics in the Upper Mekong Region

Monday, 7 August 2017 – Dr Micah Morton, Visiting Fellow at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute, spoke on how the global resurgence of religious and ethnic identity politics have been playing out in the borderlands of the Upper Mekong Region; and also on how local, national, and transnational religious and ethnic identities are being transformed by the region’s ongoing political and economic integration initiatives. The presentation drew 28 attendees from the media, higher educational institutions, organizations as well as private individuals.

Dr Micah Morton, Visiting Fellow at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute, giving his presentation (Source: ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute)

The seminar considered these broader issues by examining the competing efforts of two Akha factions — a Neo-traditionalist faction, and an evangelical Baptist faction — to proselytize and promote cross-border religious networks in the larger region. It provided the audience with a clearer understanding of the ways in which the transnational projects of these Akha elites are occurring in the Upper Mekong region 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.

The seminar was chaired by Dr Benjamin Loh, Coordinator of the Regional Social and Cultural Studies Programme at the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute (Source: ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute)

he notion of a shared Akha identity that has become increasingly fluid and hybridized was one of the main arguments offered by Dr Morton, and he presented the ways the Akha are redefining Akhaness ­­–– claiming a distinctly Akha way of being in the world in the process –– amidst the region’s political and economic transformations by way of multiple and shifting orientations to the past as well as the national and transnational in the contexts of social gatherings, communal rituals, linguistic productions, multimedia engagements, and cross-border travel.