By Ruiqi Wei
Amid the divine lay the solutions to the problems unsolved.
My mind flashed back to the glitters of the remote summer of 2018 when I first traveled to Southeastern Asia from Singapore through Malaysia all the way to Laos with a group of my friends.
We flew from Fukuoka to Singapore, taking the bus with the help of the local from Singapore all the way to Penang, Malaysia by bus. Before my trip to Southeastern Asia where I got the chances to visit both Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, I had only been to metropolises in the United States and East Asia where materialism was relatively the mainstream.
I still remembered the culture shocks that overwhelmed me when I saw a lot of people in Islamic clothing walking on the streets in Kuala Lumpur. I really could not stop myself from wondering how those pretty girls wearing Hijabs would really feel in the summer parched heats.
As an atheist always living in countries where religions are not relatively promoted, when I first noticed so many people wearing religion-affiliated clothes passing me by, my feelings at that moment were really hard to define.
Two weeks later, we finally arrived in Bangkok, where Buddhism is really widely practiced.
Compared with Islam, Buddhism seems more familiar to me since back in East Asia, there are Buddhism temples everywhere.
But what seems alien to me is the fact that four-faced Buddhas can literally be found anywhere on streets. Sometimes it just felt bizarre to pass by the four-faced Buddha in open streets.
And another thing that stroke me in Bangkok is that, near the campus of Thammasat University, the second oldest university in Thailand, there was a market that sold religious rituals related products, such as pela kleang that are used as means to communicate with those passed away.
It can be said that unlike Tokyo or Beijing, religions are deeply embedded in every aspect of people’s life in both Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.
Today in the thought-provoking sessions of professor Kathryn Poethig, first time ever in my life did I realize that the religions, also as ‘the divine’ are actually so intersected in every sector of society: educations, cultures, and even politics.
What truly amazed me in the first session was actually the fact that, the living, through the mental communications (empowered by empathy) , with the war dead, can actually reconcile between the irreconcilable, due to the undeniable fact that this can create grouds for mutual understanding, paving way for reconciliations.
Is not this religious approach to understand the dynamics of peace and wars wonderful?
Religions are also where identity politics take place. Just take Yasukuni Shrine for illustration, the Japanese rightists view it as a place where the war dead are enshrined as heroes of Japanese imperialism, the Korean and the Chinese always deem it as a malicious place where notorious criminals are memorialized in an unjust and unscrupulous way.
Besides that, religious institutions can also be a perfect place for dialogues. Although some insist that religious institutions focus more on monologue rather than dialogues, from my point of view religious institutions sometimes as places where identity politics happen and sometimes as the roots of disputes, meaning that there are a lot of interactions that happen revolving religious institutions, how could this be a monologue?
Amid the divine, we found the ways to reconcile, not only with the other but also our ‘self’: to reconcile with the past that couldnot let go