The sacred and the secular : a study of contemporary meanings and values for religious buildings in Singapore
Broadly, this thesis is concerned with the symbolic meanings and values of places. In particular, my primary concern is to find out the meanings and values of religious buildings for different groups of people and I have chosen to examine-this using multi-religious but officially secular Singapore as a case study. Specifically, my study objectives are as follows: first, to find out the symbolic meanings and values of religious buildings for individuals of the major religious groups in Singapore, namely the Muslims, Christians, Hindus and 'Chinese religionists'; second, to analyse the state's conceptions of religious buildings in Singapore and the roles it plays in shaping religious landscapes; and third, to examine the extent to which the state's conceptions of religious places coincide, complement or conflict with the meanings invested by religious individuals and groups, and with what effect. The central argument of my thesis is that individuals invest a multitude of meanings in their religious buildings which are intensely sacred, personal and social in nature. Conversely, there are two levels at which the state deals with religious buildings. They are political symbols in that they are used to endorse political rhetoric about state support for religion. At the same time, religious buildings are also treated within a functionalist framework of planning whereby provisions are made for religious buildings within new towns just as provisions are made for schools, housing, town centres, playgrounds and so forth. Demolition takes place as urban redevelopment takes precedence over other values. When this happens, the state then attempts to use ideologically hegemonic arguments to persuade people that these are natural and rational ways of dealing with religious buildings. Clearly, sacred meanings and personal and social attachments have no place in the state's scheme of things. Individuals are then faced with a situation where they will have to resist and/or cope. I examine both the strategies of resistance and the forms of adaptations adopted by various groups and individuals. In conceptual terms, I draw from four broad research directions. From humanistic geography, I adopt concepts related to human environmental experiences. From the history of religion and the comparative study of religion, I derive conceptual notions of religious experience and religious symbolism. Sociology, political studies and in particular, the 'new' cultural geography, offer useful insights into cultural politics and ideological landscapes. Finally, planning theory provides some of the input necessary to an understanding of the production and annihilation of place. Methodologically, I have used a variety of approaches. These include, first, an extensive questionnaire survey to establish the broad trends in patterns of religious worship in Singapore. Second, in-depth interviews were conducted with a much smaller number of individuals from the various religious groups, including religious functionaries, for more intensive information about meanings and values. Third, official documents and transcripts of public discourses by state representatives were analysed. Together with interviews with some state representatives (planners, bureaucrats and a politician), they allow me to interpret state conceptions of religious places.