State of Unease

Singapore’s Ambivalence towards Religion


  • Michael Hill Victoria University of Wellington



Singapore, religion, politics, 'Asian values'


The Singapore state’s changing policies towards religion have been based on the one hand on a series of perceived exigencies, and on the other on a sustained conviction that religion has an inherent capacity for social disruption. Two strains of religious extremism—associated with Islamic and Christian fundamentalism—have provided a continuing focus of state attention. Iconic events enmeshed in religion are constantly rehearsed as evidence for the need to exercise vigilant surveillance over the religious sphere. This article examines the construction of the problem, especially in the official media, and the range of intervention strategies adopted. Some of these strategies, it will be shown, have relevance for current debates about religious extremism in western societies.

Author Biography

Michael Hill, Victoria University of Wellington

Michael Hill is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and Visiting Professor at the Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore. His research interests include the sociology of religion and the sociology of deviance, and his current work has focused on religion and the state. He began his career at the London School of Economics, first as an undergraduate—where he was awarded the Hobhouse Memorial Prize—and subsequently as a Lecturer in Sociology. Two books, A Sociology of Religion and The Religious Order, appeared in 1973. He was Professor of Sociology at VUW from 1976 until 2007, when he moved to Singapore. An edited volume, Shades of Deviance, appeared in 1983 and in 1995, with Lian Kwen Fee, he published The Politics of Nation Building and Citizenship in Singapore. In addition to numerous chapters and papers he contributed to the 2001 edition of the International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences.


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How to Cite

Hill, M. (2011). State of Unease: Singapore’s Ambivalence towards Religion. Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, 24(1), 10–36.