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From Spiritual Homes to National Shrines: Religious Traditions and Nation-Building in Vietnam


As in China and Soviet Russia, religion in Vietnam was considered to be harmful superstition. However, a glimpse into the Governmental Gazette – Công Báo – displays the important transformation of the state’s policy toward religion that became translated into national representation. While this article focuses on nation-building as a dynamic cultural process that leads to the promotion of selected religious practices as ‘national heritage,’ it also explores the state-society relationship beyond binaries. By looking at religious spaces and local communities I argue that in Vietnam religion is a powerful form of nation-building process and constitutes a creative space in which different actors exercise their agency beyond resistance and accommodation.

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    See Nghị quyết hội nghị lần thứ năm Ban chấp hành Trung uơng Đảng (khóa VIII) về xây dựng và phát triển nền văn hóa Việt Nam tiên tiến, đậm dà bản sắc dân tộc [Resolution No.5 of the Central Committee of the Communist Party on building progressive culture, imbued with national identity], số 03/NQ-T ngày 16/17/1998, retrieved on 2 December 2010 from

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    Based on her survey in archives of the Ministry of Culture, Endres [23] points out that until 1996, altogether 1860 historic sites and monuments were officially recognized as historical and cultural sites.

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    Already in the thirteenth century the Trần court – fervent Buddhists – honored the villagers’ tutelary spirits, however such practices were not the same as imperial control over spirits initiated in sixteenth century by the Lê dynasty. By the fifteenth century Đại Việt shared many patterns with its Southeast Asian neighbours; Mahayana Buddhism and the spirit cult were the main forms of popular beliefs. Chinese Neo-Confucianism with its rigid moralistic ideology only began to have a more significant impact in the Lê period ([58], p. 298; see also [59], p.11-12; [52]).

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    The Hoàng Sa and Trường Sa flotillas were established by the Nguyễn lords around the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Nguyễn dynasty continued to carry out naval activities in the vicinity of the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos.

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    See VietNamNet 1 May 2010,, accessed on 7 September 2010.


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Research in the National Library of Vietnam (Hanoi) for this article was supported by the grant of the Polish Ministry of Education and Sport in 2005. Fieldwork on Lý Sơn Island was made possible thanks to the doctoral grant of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, Germany. I also would like to thank the Center of Asia-Pacific Area Studies, Academia Sinica which provided support, both in terms of office space and library resources. Additionally, I am indebted to Kirsten Endres for drawing my attention to the Công Báo documents during our discussion in Hanoi 2004. I am also grateful to Claire Sutherland for her editorial work on this issue, and to Oscar Salemink and two anonymous reviewers for East Asia for their excellent comments on a previous version of this article.

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Correspondence to Edyta Roszko.

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Roszko, E. From Spiritual Homes to National Shrines: Religious Traditions and Nation-Building in Vietnam. East Asia 29, 25–41 (2012).

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  • Cultural heritage
  • Nation-building
  • National heritage
  • Religious traditions
  • Vietnamese modernity