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Title: Order from chaos : agonism and salvation among Khmer Evangelical Christians in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Author: Marshall, Quentin Adam
ISNI:       0000 0004 8509 2687
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2020
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This thesis is about Christian salvation in the Khmer world. It ethnographically investigates the everyday religious experiences of poor-to-middle class Khmer evangelical Christians who have predominantly migrated from the outside countryside into the densely populated, poor, and precarious neighbourhood of Phnom Penh, Cambodia called Toul Sangkae. Relying on ethnographic and historical evidence, this thesis follows the sites of where Christian salvation can occur by highlighting the agents of chaos, such as agonism and sin, where Jesus actively works to produce balance, order, and, thus, salvation. It argues that for these Christians, Jesus's salvation from sin takes on a multiplicity of quotidian, everyday facets on varying scales, from the "heart (cett)" of the individual believer outward to the national and even global level. Ultimately, this thesis displays how a "good" world, like the person, is created through the interplay between order and chaos. Chaos can be explored, for example, through the spatial geography of urban life. For many Khmer migrants, the city of Phnom Penh is considered "wild," "chaotic," and marked with unpredictability and instability. In such a dynamic environment as Phnom Penh where traditional Khmer sociality is shattered, new ways of being are inevitable. Conversion to Christianity aids these religious people to not only cope with and engage city-life, but also offers hope for a better future. Khmer religion plays a crucial role in the creation of the Khmer moral order, offering rituals that bring a deep sense of belonging and refortifies notions of Khmerness. Removing oneself from this order, by, for example, adopting foreign and modern modes of living creates dissonance and angst. Becoming Christian is described by many to be a "betrayal" that causes the convert to "no longer fit in" in Khmer society. Therefore, conversion itself introduces chaos and agonism that needs to be addressed. Christians understand their new religious lives to be marked with, in part, "persecution." Crucially, their persecution plays an important role in the salvation of the Khmer nation. Christians use the momentum of their experienced agonism to position themselves from "outside" of the Khmer order, providing them the space to critique Khmer society in the hope to transform it. In that way, Christians are able to act like Jesus as the sacrifice-turned-saviour. Thus, we can begin to see how this salvific dynamic can be extrapolated to the national level. Christians deploy a political theology that bolsters Jesus as the true Lord and Sovereign of Cambodia. While being framed as apolitical, this political theology is understood to be outside of the political sphere, allowing Jesus to effectively save the Khmer people from the political agonism that continues to haunt the nation. Therefore, this thesis displays how the interplay between order and chaos not only animates evangelical Christian life, but also helps create a "good" world.
Supervisor: Baxstrom, Richard ; Haynes, Naomi Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: evangelical Christians ; Phnom Penh ; Cambodia ; Khmer Christian converts ; Khmer religious context ; agonism