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Diasporic Encounters, Sacred Journeys:
Religion, Ethics and Normativity among Asian Migrant Women

The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology (TAPJA) Volume 11, Issue 3-4, 2010

The power of embodied ritual performance to constitute agency and transform subjectivity are increasingly the focus of major debates in the anthropology of Christianity and Islam. They are particularly relevant to understanding the way transnational women migrants from South and South East Asia, Christians, Muslims and Buddhists, who migrate to Asia, Europe and the Middle East to work as carers and maids, re-imagine and recreate themselves in moral and ethical terms in the diaspora.

This timely collection shows how women international migrants, stereotypically represented as a ‘nation of servants', reclaim sacralised spaces of sociality in their migration destinations, and actively transform themselves from mere workers into pilgrims and tourists on cosmopolitan journeys. Such women struggle for dignity and respect by re-defining themselves in terms of an ethics of care and sacrifice. As co-worshippers they recreate community through fiestas, feasts, protests, and shared conviviality, while subverting established normativities of gender, marriage and conjugality; they renegotiate their moral selfhood through religious conversion and activism. For migrants the place of the church or mosque becomes a gateway to new intellectual and experiential horizons as well as a locus for religious worship and a haven of humanitarian assistance in a strange land.

Mark Johnson and Pnina Werbner

Part 1: Spiritual Sojourners and Religious Journeys

(a) Ritual and Performance

Popular Religiosity and the Transnational Journeys: Inscribing Filipino identity in the Santo Niño Fiesta in New Zealand.
Josefina Tondo

Becoming Pilgrims in the ‘Holy Land': On Filipina Domestic Workers' Struggles and Pilgrimages for a Cause

Claudia Liebelt

Buddhism by Other Means: Sacred Sites and Ritual Practice among Sri Lankan Domestic Workers in Jordan
Elizabeth Frantz

(b) Experiences of Conversion, ‘Difference' and Transnationalism

Muslim Belongings and Becomings: Migrant Domestic Workers and Islamic Da'wa in Kuwait
Attiya Ahmad

Political Ties and Religious Differences: Foreign Domestic Workers in Hong Kong

Nicole Constable

A Transnational Pig: Reconstituting Kinship Among Indigenous Filipinos in Hong Kong
Deirdre McKay

(c) Religious Institutions as Havens: Gender and Normativity

The Catholic Church in the Lives of Irregular Migrant Filipinas in France: Identity Formation, Empowerment and Social Control

Asuncion Fresnoza-Flot

‘Maddad ya om al-awagez': the Spiritual and Material influence of Religion on the Experiences of Local and Foreign Domestic Workers in Egypt

Amira A. Ahmed

The Erasure of Sexuality and Desire: State Morality and Sri Lankan migrants in Beirut, Lebanon

Monica Smith

Part 2: Ethical Dilemmas: Class, Intimacy and the Limits of Normativity

Bodies and Bodies! Offerings for the Here and Now and the Hereafter
Alicia Pingol

“They think we are just caregivers”: the Ambivalence of Care in the Lives of Filipino Medical Workers in Singapore

Megha Amrith

Diasporic Dreams, Middle Class Moralities and Migrant Domestic Workers among Muslim Filipinos in Saudi Arabia
Mark Johnson