ABSTRACT

Throughout history religion has been one of the most formative influences on the cultures of Southeast Asia. In successive waves, religious ideas originating outside the region have transformed indigenous perceptions of self, cosmos, kinship and political and social order, have created new patterns of ethics and aesthetics, have imposed new cuisines and fashions and have, in ways both obvious and subtle, irrevokably altered the spiritual landscape and religious geography of a whole sub-continent. Hinduism's immense influence on Cambodia, Java and Bali, Therevada Buddhism's transformation of Thai and Burmese society, the impact of Islam from southern Thailand east as far as the Philippines have been amongst the most important factors in the formation of world views, economies and political systems. The subsequent appearance of Christianity, which especially in its Catholic variant has had a profound impact on Southeast Asian societies as diverse as Vietnam and the Philippines, and the coming of Mahayana Buddhism with Chinese migrants have woven yet further threads into the religious tapestry in an area which has both been the recipient of influences from the east and the west and the transformer of those influences into distinct local patterns - Javanese mysticism, Philippine folk Catholicism, or the Vietnamese Cao Dai movement for example.