Hybrid Pathways to Orthodoxy in Brunei Darussalam: Bureaucratised Exorcism, Scientisation and the Mainstreaming of Deviant-Declared Practices

Dominik M. Müller


This article investigates the bureaucratisation of Islam in Brunei and its interlinkages with socio-cultural changes. It elucidates how realisations of state-enforced Islamic orthodoxy and purification produce locally unique meanings, while simultaneously reflecting much broader characteristics of the contemporary global condition. The article first introduces a theoretical perspective on the bureaucratisation of Islam as a social phenomenon that is intimately intertwined with the state’s exercise of classificatory power and related popular processes of coproducing, and sometimes appropriating symbolic state power. Second, it outlines the historical trajectory of empowering Brunei’s national ideology, Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB). It then explores social imaginaries and bureaucratic representations of “deviant”-declared practices, before illustrating how these practices become reinvented within the parameters of state power as “Sharia-compliant” services to the nation state. Simultaneously, national-religious protectionism is paradoxically expressed in thoroughly globalised terms and shaped by forces the state cannot (entirely) control. Newly established Sharia-serving practices become culturally re-embedded, while also flexibly drawing upon multiple transnational cultural registers. In the main ethnographic example, bureaucratised exorcism, Japanese water-crystal photography and scientisation fuse behind the “firewall” of MIB. These hybrid pathways to orthodoxy complicate the narratives through which they are commonly framed.

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