Using interdisciplinarity to enhance our understanding of ancient ritual at Preah Vihear

Author: Sarah- Kim Youngblutt (Leiden Institute for Area Studies, Universiteit Leiden)
Speaker: Sarah- Kim Youngblutt
Topic: Linguistic Anthropology
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


Short Abstract:

This paper utilizes anthropological concepts such as ‘discourse,’ ‘worldview,’ and’ ritual’ to enhance our understanding of socio-religious practice at the Preah Vihear site.

Long Abstract

At its height between the 9th-12th centuries, this Saivite site was culturally alive; it was a place of ritual (including sacrifice), worship, learning and regional pilgrimage.

Since the 19th century, Preah Vihear has captured the attention of architectural enthusiasts, antiquarians and academics the world over, especially for its aesthetic value. Using an anthropological approach, this paper considers how historical scholarship—including UNESCO’s summary of the site—continue to affect local and global perceptions of cultural ‘value’ at Preah Vihear. This paper reveals the way in which Preah Vihear’s defined value (indicated by its 2008 WHS inscription) adversely affects regional cooperation, while clouding a holistic understanding of past tangible and intangible cultural practices at the site.

Importantly, this paper delineates a patterned, hierarchic approach to the assignment of ‘cultural value’ for particular aspects of the site, as indicated through scholarship— and questions why some tangible elements of the site have been prioritized (for conservation and presentation) over others. Using anthropological concepts such as ‘value,’ ‘discourse,’ ‘worldview,’ and ‘ritual’ to enhance our understanding of socio-religious practice at the Preah Vihear site, the paper works to contrast cultural fragments of the Angkorean use of Preah Vihear with a perceived social function of the site today. Finally, this paper calls for future discussions on how interdisciplinarity— particularly anthropological techniques— can serve a global-public appreciation of past socio-religious practice at the Preah Vihear site.