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Catalog Archive / Spring 2023

Development in Spirit
Religious Transformation and Everyday Politics in Vietnam’s Highlands

New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies
Alfred W. McCoy, Ian G. Baird, Katherine A. Bowie, and Anne Ruth Hansen, Series Editors

How marginalized communities engage with markets and the state through everyday economic and religious practices

As state economic policies promote integration under a single logic of modernist development, many impoverished groups remain on the margins. Development in Spirit explores the practices employed by communities on the fringes of such nation-building projects. Using an everyday political economy lens, Seb Rumsby demonstrates how seemingly powerless actors actively engage with larger forces, shaping their experience of development in ways that are underexamined but have far-reaching consequences.

Following state-led market reforms in the 1980s, Vietnam experienced stunning economic transformation. But for the Hmong communities of the country’s north and central highlands, the benefits proved elusive. Instead, the Hmong people have pursued their own alternative paths to development. Rumsby shows how mass conversion to Christianity led to a case of “unplanned development” that put the Hmong on a trajectory of simultaneous integration into the market economy and resistance to state authority.

Many of the strategies community members employ are tied to the Christianization of everyday life. Religious actors play complex and often contradictory roles in facilitating networks of exchange and shaping local ideas about progress. They are influenced by national and transnational religious networks, especially US-produced radio broadcasts by Hmong American Christians and local converts.

This compelling account provides fresh theoretical and empirical insights into the interplay of religion, neoliberal development, and marketization across the world.


Seb Rumsby is lecturer of Southeast Asian politics at Queen Mary University of London. He is the co-founder of Hmongdom, a nonprofit rural development organization.



“In this stimulating study, Rumsby shows how Christianity offers the Hmong in northwest Vietnam autonomous resources for engaging with state-directed modernization. Empowered by their faith, the people of this uplands minority have charted a path to development that promises prosperity and coexistence with the state on their own terms.”
—Philip Taylor, Australian National University



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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Chapter 1. Historical Context and Strange Parallels
Chapter 2. Changing Livelihoods, Precarious Development Trajectories
Chapter 3. The Political Economy of New Christian Elites
Chapter 4. Neoliberalism in Everyday Life
Chapter 5. Conversion and Gender Relations



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Book Title

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June 2023
224 pp. 6 x 9
7 halftones, 2 b/w illus., 4 maps

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Cloth $79.95 S
ISBN 9780299342302
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