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Introduction: spiritual landscapes of Southeast Asia

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This Introduction foreshadows the main themes of this special issue on spiritual landscapes of Southeast Asia. Throughout Southeast Asia, links exist between spirit beings or potent energies and particular sites in the landscape, including trees, mountains and rivers. These are highlighted in this collection of papers via the notion of 'spiritual landscapes'. This concept also broadens anthropological approaches to the religious significance of the landscape, by problematising the separation of 'natural' and 'cultural' environments while sidestepping the implication that something called 'sacred geography' can be separated from the pragmatic activities of daily life. Following an ethnographic overview of spirit-places and environmental forces in the region, I discuss our need to take more seriously the claims of many Southeast Asian people that their landscapes have agency. In the context of religious conversion, the agency of the landscape often becomes a central concern, as reformers and missionaries seek to 'purify' the environment of such spiritual power. However, in addition to 'purification', ongoing conversion may also involve new forms of conversation with the landscape, including re-enchantments, religious syntheses or reassertions of the landscape's potency.

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