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Old Myths and New Approaches: Interpreting Ancient Religious Sites in Southeast Asia

Introduction

Marika Vicziany

Director, Monash Asia Institute, Monash University

Based on a conference of the same name, and bringing together some of the world’s leading scholars in their field, Old Myths and New Approaches represents a ground-breaking contribution to the study of the religions and cultures of Southeast Asia. A major objective of the volume is to locate temples within their general cultural and geographic surroundings. All too often temples are studied from the viewpoints of their artistic and architectural merits. These are certainly important, but in order to better understand even their aesthetic qualities it is important to place them into the context of how they were used.

The chapters that compose this collection cover a wide geographical area and use an extensive range of source materials and methodologies. Many of the approaches are innovative, pushing the research frontiers and methodologies to new limits and new speculation. Given this complexity, the chapters are grouped into three distinctive sections, each with its own introduction.

Part One focuses on how the people who inhabited these religious sites adapted to the local environments. In different ways, these chapters examine the interplay between culture and environment, with four of the contributions focussing on Angkor Wat. As Haendel notes in her introduction, the central characteristic revealed by all these studies is the diversity of the human interaction with nature.

Part Two focuses on the interrelationship between the temples and the environment and, as with the other chapters in this collection, introduces the reader to a range of new methodologies that have been used to better understand the nature of the sacred sites of Southeast Asia.

Part Three deals explicitly with the ‘functionality of sacred sites’ in Southeast Asia. The studies here go well beyond the older, traditional understandings of ancient temple complexes. They do not merely deal with priestly or religious power; they also examine the ways in which temples met the daily needs of ordinary people, kings, merchants and other members of society. Moreover, not all sacred sites were temples—they could also be sacred spaces, or groves or other locations of spiritual meaning.

This volume includes a rich array of photographs, diagrams and maps, which convey a more immediate sense of the nature of the ancient sacred sites of Southeast Asia.

Dr Alexandra Haendel and all the contributors are to be commended for their work in putting this volume together. We also record our appreciation to the numerous donors who have supported this research.

Old Myths and New Approaches: Interpreting Ancient Religious Sites in Southeast Asia

   by Alexandra Haendel (editor)