Religious Memory in a Changing Society: The Case of India and Papua New Guinea


The study analyzes the place of religion in the national collective memory and the changes that have taken place in the field of religion in connection with the modernization and emergence of modern nationstates in India and Papua New Guinea (PNG). In the case of PNG, we look at the place of Christianization in the process of modernization, while in the case of India, we analyze the use of Hinduism in the process of forming national identity. Both cases are analyzed with the use of selected cases of material culture in specific localities and they show the ongoing struggle for the incorporation or segregation of original religious tradition into national identity. Both cases are analyzed on the basis of field research. In the case of India, we look at Bharat Mata Mandir in Haridwar, and in the case of Papua New Guinea, the tambaran building in the village of Kambot in East Sepik Province. While Bharat Mata Mandir demonstrates the modernization of tradition and the incorporation of religion into modern (originally secular) nationalism, the decline in tambaran houses is a result of Christianization and the modernization of PNG. The study shows that if there is a connection between religious memory and national memory (or national identity), the religious tradition is maintained or strengthened, whereas when religious memory and national memory are disconnected, religious memory is weakened in a modernizing society.

Author Biography

Dušan Lužný, Palacký University, Olomouc, Czech Republic

Dušan Lužný is a professor at the Department of Sociology, Andragogy and Cultural Anthropology, Palacký Univerzity in Olomouc, Czech Republic. Main fields of interest include sociology of religion, cultural memory, and new religious movements. He has contributed numerous articles to scholarly journals and books, for example: “Sect as a Threat – Cultural Memory and the Image of Sects”. Politics, Religion & Ideology, 18(2), 2017. Expected publications are: “Invented Religions and the Conceptualization of Religion in a Highly Secular Society – the Jedi Religion and the Church of Beer in the Czech Context”. European Journal of Cultural Studies (; “The Fight over the Marian Column and a Religious Narrative Template in a Society of Unbelievers”. Memory Studies.


  • Aerts, T. (1998a). Christianity in Melanesia. Port Moresby: University of Papua New Guinea.

  • Aerts, T. (1998b). Traditional religion in Melanesia. Port Moresby: University of Papua New Guinea.

  • Andersen, W., & Damle, Sh. D. (2019). Messengers of Hindu nationalism. How the RSS reshaped India. London: C. Hurst & Co.

  • Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined communities. Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism (Revised ed.). London and New York: Verso.

  • Assmann, J. (2006). Religion and cultural memory. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

  • Assmann, J. (2008). Communicative and cultural memory. In A. Erll & A. Nünning (Eds.), Cultural memory studies. An international and interdisciplinary handbook (pp. 109–118). Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter.

  • Assmann, J., & Czaplicka, J. (1995). Collective memory and cultural identity. New German Critique, 65, 125–133.

  • Arrighi, G., Hamashita, T., & Selden. M. (Eds.). (2003). The resurgence of East Asia: 500, 150 and 50 year perspectives. London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon.

  • Berger, M. T. (2004). The battle for Asia. From decolonization to globalization. London and New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

  • Bergson, H. (1990). Matter and memory (N. M. Paul & W. S. Palmer, Trans.). New York: Zone. (Originally published in French 1896)

  • Biswas, R. (2016). Asian megatrends. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Bhatt, Ch. (2001). Hindu nationalism. Origins, ideologies and modern myths. Oxford: Berg.

  • Boyer, P., & Wertsch, J. V. (Eds.). (2009). Memory in mind and culture. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

  • Brubaker, R. (1996). Nationalism reframed. Nationhood and the national question in the New Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Brubaker, R. (2012). Religion and nationalism: four approaches. Nations and Nationalism 18(1), 2–20.

  • Chauvel, R. (2005). Constructing Papuan nationalism. History, ethnicity, and adaptation. Washington, DC: East-West Center.

  • Collier, J., & Collier, M. (Eds.). (1986). Visual anthropology: Photography as a research method (Revised & enlarged ed.). Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

  • Connerton, P. (2008). Seven types of forgetting. Memory Studies, 1(1), 59–71.

  • Connerton, P. (2009). How modernity forgets. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Davie, G. (2000). Religion in modern Europe: A memory mutates. New York: Oxford University Press.

  • Dougoud, R. (2005). Ol i kam long hul bilong Wotñana (They come from the hole of Wotñana). Or how a Papua New Guinean artifact became traditional. In T. Otto & P. Pedersen (Eds.), Tradition and agency: Tracing cultural continuity and invention (pp. 235–266). Aarhus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag.

  • Erll, A., & Nünning. A. (Eds.). (2008). Cultural memory studies. An international and interdisciplinary handbook. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter.

  • Fife, W. (2005). Doing fieldwork. Ethnographic methods for research in developing countries and beyond. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Gibbs, P. (2015). Beyond the fence: Confronting witchcraft accusations in the Papua New Guinea highlands. International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 39(1), 8–11.

  • Graham, B. D. (1990). Hindu nationalism and Indian politics. The origins and development of the Bharatiya Jana Sang. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Halbwachs, M. (1992). On collective memory (L. A. Coser, Ed. and Trans.). Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. (Originally published in French 1925)

  • Hansen, T. B. (1999). The saffron wave. Democracy and Hindu nationalism in modern India. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  • Hervieu-Léger, D. (2000). Religion as a chain of memory (S. Lee, Trans.). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. (Originally published in French 1993)

  • Hewer, Ch. J., & Kut, M. (2010). Historical legacy, social memory and representations of the past within a Polish community. Memory Studies, 3(1): 18–32.

  • Hilton, D. J., & Liu, J. H. (2017). History as the narrative of a people: From function to structure and content. Memory Studies, 10(3), 297–309.

  • Hobsbawm, E., & Ranger, T. (Eds.). (1983). The Invention of tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Hockings, P. (Ed.) (1995). Principles of visual anthropology (2nd ed.). Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

  • Jackson, B. (1987). Fieldwork. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

  • Jaffrelot, Ch. (1996). The Hindu nationalist movement and Indian politics. 1925 to the 1990s. New Delhi: Viking/Penguin India.

  • Jaffrelot, Ch. (Ed.). (2005). The Sangh Parivar: A reader. New Delhi: Oxford University Press India.

  • Jaffrelot, Ch. (Ed.). (2007). Hindu nationalism: A reader. Delhi: Permanent Black.

  • Jakobs, M. D., & Hanrahan, N. W. (Eds.). (2005). The Blackwell companion to sociology of culture. Malden, MA and Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

  • Kavanamur, D., Yala, Ch., & Clements, Q. (Eds.). (2003). Building a nation in Papua New Guinea. Views of the post-independence generation. Canberra: Pandanus Books.

  • Klostermaier, K. K. (1994). A survey of Hinduism. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

  • Knapp, R. (2017). Culture change and ex-ghange: Syncretism and anti-syncretism in Bena, Eastern Highlands, Papua New Guinea. New York: Berghahn Books.

  • Lawrence, P., & Meggitt, M. (Eds.). (1965). Gods, ghosts and men in Melanesia: Some religions of Australian New Guinea and the New Hebrides. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

  • May, R. J. (2004). State and society in Papua New Guinea: The first twenty-five years. Camberra: Australian National University Press.

  • Misztal, B. A. (2003). Theories of social remembering. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press.

  • Nehrbass, K. (2012). Christianity and animism in Melanesia. Four approaches to gospel and culture. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library.

  • Nora, P. (1996). Realms of memory (Kritzman, L. D., Ed. of English-language edition, A. Goldhammer, Trans.). New York: Columbia University Press. (Originally published in French 1984)

  • O’Collins, G., & Braithwaite, D. (2015). Tradition as collective memory: A theological task to be tackled. Theological Studies, 76(1), 29–42.

  • Olick, J. K. (1999). Collective memory: The two cultures. Sociological Theory, 17(3), 333–348.

  • Olick, J. K., & Robbins, J. (1998). Social memory studies: From “Collective memory” to the historical sociology of mnemonic practices. Annual Review of Sociology, 24, 105–140.

  • Pauwels, L. (2015). Reframing visual social science: Towards a more visual sociology and anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Pušnik, M. (2019). Media memorial discourses and memory struggles in Slovenia: Transforming memories of the Second World War and Yugoslavia. Memory Studies, 12(4), 433–450.

  • Ramaswamy, S. (2006). Enshrining the map of India: Cartography, nationalism, and the politics of deity in Varanasi. In M. Gaenszle & J. Gengnagel (Eds.), Visualizing space in Banaras: Images, maps, and the practice of representation (pp. 165–190). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

  • Ramaswamy, S. (2010). The Goddess and the Nation: Mapping Mothers India. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

  • Ramaswamy, S. (2014). Maps, mothers/goddesses, and martyrdom in modern India. In M. Jay & S. Ramaswamy (Eds.), Empires of vision: A reader (pp. 415–449). Durham and London: Duke University Press.

  • Reading, A. (2011). Memory and digital media: Six dynamics of the globital memory field. In M. Neiger, O. Meyers, & E. Zandberg (Eds.), On media memory: Collective memory in a new media age (pp. 241–252). Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Reading, A., & Notley, T. (2015). The materiality of globital memory: bringing the cloud to earth. Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 29(4), 511–521.

  • Rio, K., MacCarthy, M., & Blanes, R. (Eds.). (2017). Pentecostalism and witchcraft. Spiritual warfare in Africa and Melanesia. Cham, Switzerland: Pagrave Macmillan.

  • Robben, A. C. G. M., & Sluka, J. A. (Eds.). (2007). Ethnographic fieldwork: An anthropological reader. Malden, MA and Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

  • Robbins, J. (2004). Becoming sinners. Christianity and moral torment in a Papua New Guinea society. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

  • Roediger, H, L, & Wertsch, J. V. (2008). Creating a new discipline of memory studies. Memory Studies, 1(1), 9–22.

  • Sahlins, M. (1985). Islands of history. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Scheyvens, R., & Storey, D. (2003) Development fieldwork: A practical guide. London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi: Sage Publications.

  • Sharma, J. (2015). Hindutva: Exploring the idea of Hindu nationalism. Noida: HarperCollins Publishers India.

  • Shaw, R. D. (2018). Beyond syncretism: A dynamic approach to hybridity. International Bulletin of Mission Research, 41(1), 6–19.

  • Sillitoe, P. (1998). An introduction to the anthropology of Melanesia: Culture and tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Sillitoe, P. (2000). Social change in Melanesia: Development and history. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Silverman, E. K. (2018). The Sepik river, Papua New Guinea: Nourishing tradition and modern catastrophe. In J. R. Wagner & J. K. Jacka (Eds), Island rivers: Fresh water and place in Oceania (pp. 187–222). Canberra: Australian National University.

  • Silverman, H. (Ed.). (2011). Contested cultural heritage. Religion, nationalism, erasure, and exclusion in a global world. New York: Springer.

  • Smith, A. D. (1999). Myths and memories of the nation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Smith, D. (2003). Hinduism and modernity. Malden, MA and Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

  • Soukup, M., & Lužný, D. (2019). The story of storyboards from East Sepik, Papua New Guinea. Annals of the Náprstek Museum, 40(1), 59–74.

  • Spradley, J. P. (1980). Participant observation. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

  • Stroumsa, G. G. (2016). Religious memory, between orality and writing. Memory Studies, 9(3), 332–340.

  • Verovšek, P. J. (2016). Collective memory, politics, and the influence of the past: the politics of memory as a research paradigm. Politics, Groups, and Identities, 4(3), 529–543.

  • Wang, Q. (2008). On the cultural construction of collective memory. Memory, 16(3), 305–317.

  • Wertsch, J. V., & Roediger, H. L. (2008). Collective memory: Conceptual foundations and theoretical approaches. Memory, 16(3), 318–326.

  • Yamashiro, J. K, van Engen, A., & Roediger, H. L. (2019). American origins: Political and religious divides in US collective memory. Memory Studies, 15(1), 1–18.

How to Cite
Lužný, D. (2021). Religious Memory in a Changing Society: The Case of India and Papua New Guinea. Changing Societies & Personalities, 5(1), 36–62. doi:10.15826/csp.2021.5.1.121