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More Universal Than Catholicism? -Mary among Asian Religions

Online Conference: 10 -12 May 2023


Credit IRFA Missions étrangères de Paris

The figure of Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, has long been present among Asian people. Scholars have extensively explored how Asian Catholics use their local culture and national context to translate the features and meaning of this religious figure (Cruz 2015). However, Mary has also crossed religious boundaries and been integrated into the continent’s various religious traditions.

Among Filipino-Chinese Catholics, Mary can be juxtaposed to and identified with Chinese deities like Mazu and Guanyin (Dy 2014). In Japan, she has long embraced the attributes of the bodhisattva Kannon (Habito 1994). In India, Indonesia, and Pakistan, Marian shrines attract thousands of Hindu and Muslim pilgrims (Bloomer 2018, Laksana 2014). And in Trinidad, Hindu migrants come to worship Mary as a representation of the goddess Kali (Tsuji 2020). Across Asian people, places, and traditions, Mary stands as a pan religious figure.

Furthermore, ways to approach and engage with her vary tremendously among people of different faiths. Often, Mary is made present through the display of images and statues with artistic, ethnic, and gender particularities which call for critical attention (Habito 2014, Ninh 2017). Those statues can become the centre of larger rituals including material offerings, collective pilgrimages, and chanting ceremonies. Rooted in broader cultural meanings, these practices involve various modes of subjective and bodily engagement. And for some healing rituals and counseling sessions, Mary can even be encountered through highly codified possession (Bloomer 2018).

This workshop investigates the many ways Mary is understood and engaged by Asian people around the world. It explores how Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Asian devotees from various faiths approach her. It discusses the rituals, collective practices, and artistic expressions they deploy in relation to her. At a more theoretical level, this workshop seeks to question what those Marian devotions say about the notions of religion, migration, interreligious relations, gender, and popular religiosity.

While this workshop seeks contributions from social scientific and historical perspectives, paper presenters are invited to consider the following questions to frame the investigations addressed at the conference:

• How do Asian communities perceive and display Mary? What do these activities reflect with regard to religion, gender roles, ethnic identity, etc. across time and space?

• How are specific forms of Mary localized across places where Asians live? What are the material and ritual practices involved in this geographic translation of Mary?

• How does Mary cross or reinforce boundaries between ethnic, religious and economic groups? Which kind of inter-religious dialogues are mediated through her? How is Mary used to negotiate boundaries between different types of Christian communities?

• Which kind of bodily and subjective engagements are promoted through Marian practices? Who are the religious experts guiding and regulating those engagements?

• How do Asian clergies, religious experts, and civil authorities respond to the various forms of Mary? In what ways is Mary promoted and endorsed by the continent’s civil and religious institutions? How are some manifestations of Mary despised, sidelined, or condemned by various kinds of authorities?

As part of the Asian Marianism pilot research project, this online conference is jointly organized by the Initiative for the Study of Asian Catholics (ISAC) – an initiative hosted by the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore – and the Centre for Marian Studies, St Mary’s University, Twickenham, London, UK.


Paper proposals should include a title, an abstract (250 words maximum) and a brief personal biography of 100 words for submission, including your location to indicate your time zone. Please send it as a word document file to by 1 February 2023. Successful applicants will be notified by mid-March 2023.

Please also include a statement confirming that your paper has not been published previously, it is not committed elsewhere, and that you are willing to revise your paper for potential inclusion in a special publication (in collaboration with the workshop organizers and other participants).

Panel presenters will be required to submit drafts of their papers (6,000 words) by 1 May 2023. These drafts will be circulated to fellow panelists and discussants in advance. Drafts need not be fully polished. Indeed, we expect that presenters will be open to feedback from fellow participants.

For any inquiry, please contact Catherine O'Brien at


If you would like to join this conference and listen to presentations and panels on May 10 -12, 2023, you can register now through the following link:


• Bloomer, Kristin C. 2018. Possessed by the Virgin. Hinduism, Roman Catholicism, and Marian Possession in South India. New York: Oxford University Press.

• Cruz, Deirdre de la. 2015. Mother Figured: Marian Apparitions and the Making of a Filipino Universal. London: The University of Chicago Press.

• Dy, Aristotle C. 2014. “The Virgin Mary as Mazu or Guanyin: The Syncretic Nature of Chinese Religion in the Philippines.” Philippine Sociological Review 62: 41–63.

• Habito, Ruben L. F. 1994. “Maria Kannon Zen: Explorations in Buddhist-Christian Practice.” Buddhist-Christian Studies 14: 145–56.

• Laksana, A. Bagus. 2014. Muslim and Catholic Pilgrimage Practices: Explorations Through Java. Farnham: Taylor & Francis Group.

• Ninh, Thien-Huong T. 2017. Race, Gender, and Religion in the Vietnamese Diaspora: The New Chosen People. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

• Tsuji, Teruyuki. 2020. "The Power of the Illegitimate." New West Indian Guide 94, no. 3/4: 211-44.

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