The neglected side of philanthropy: gifts to hungry ghosts in contemporary Việt Nam

Marouda, Marina (2017) The neglected side of philanthropy: gifts to hungry ghosts in contemporary Việt Nam. South East Asia Research, 25 (3). pp. 251-267. ISSN 0967-828X

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Anthropological interest in giving, including religious charity, has grown in recent years. However, studies of philanthropy have largely been confined to activities relating to human-to-human sociality. By contrast, this article explores conceptions of giving and acts of charity from the perspective of interactions between the living and the dead. Drawing on Buddhist traditions and popular rituals in contemporary Việt Nam, it takes an in-depth, ethnographic look at a series of ritual performances that seek to provide relief to ‘orphaned’ restless ghosts. Forms of religious charity constitute the unfortunate dead as the impoverished ‘other’ and strive to create a nexus of reciprocity that associates the living with the dead, and the human with the non-human. Further, the article argues that Vietnamese charitable acts for ghosts are not driven simply by an awareness of the needs and sufferings of others. Such concerns and sensibilities are undeniably instilled by moral and religious training in Buddhist disciplines. However, they are supplemented and reinforced by the menacing influence that the neglected dead are believed to be capable of exerting upon the living, in terms of the threat they pose, and the power they often exercise, putting one’s prospects for a prosperous future and general well-being in jeopardy.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Charity, alms, ghosts, rituals, Buddhism, Vietnam
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > Anthropology
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology > GN301 Ethnology. Social and cultural anthropology
Depositing User: Marina Marouda
Date Deposited: 07 Mar 2017 13:23
Last Modified: 03 Oct 2017 10:19

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