2022 Holland Prize Recipients: Terence Chong & Daniel P.S Goh

Pacific Affairs is delighted to announce the 21st William L. Holland Prize for the best article published in Volume 95, No. 1 (2022).

Congratulations to Terence Chong and Daniel P. S. Goh for their article “Beyond Mall Christianity: Megachurches Navigating Southeast Asian Urbanism”.


Terrance Chong

ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore

Terence Chong is director (research division) and deputy chief executive officer of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore. He is a sociologist and editor of Pentecostal Megachurches in Southeast Asia: Negotiating Class, Consumption and the Nation, published by ISEAS, Singapore (2018).

Email: terence_chong@iseas.edu.sg

Daniel P. S. Goh

National University of Singapore, Singapore

Daniel P. S. Goh is associate professor of sociology and associate provost (undergraduate education), National University of Singapore. He is also vice dean (special programmes) at NUS College. He is a sociologist and co-editor of Regulating Religion in Asia: Norms, Modes, and Challenges, published by Cambridge University Press (2019).

Email: socgohd@nus.edu.sg


Feeling “Superstitious”: Affect and the Land in the Marquesas Islands

Emily C. Donaldson

Independent Scholar, Montpelier, Vermont, USA

The Art of Thai Diplomacy: Parables of Alliance

Ryan Ashley

University of Texas, Austin, USA

Apichai W. Shipper

Georgetown University, Washington DC, USA

About the article

Pentecostal megachurches can be ubiquitous yet hidden, ranging in physical presence from large, prominent standalone churches to large spaces infused within urban shopping malls. Drawing on extended and extensive fieldwork, Terence Chong and Daniel Goh provide an absorbing answer to the question of the why of the where – in other words, a comparative analysis of the reasons for the locational choices of megachurches across four sites in Southeast Asia – Jakarta, Surabaya, Kuala Lumpur, and Manila.

Their 2022 Holland Prize winning article “Beyond Mall Christianity: Megachurches Navigating Southeast Asian Urbanism” (volume 95, number 1) presents its cogent insights in a clear and accessible style, while also pushing the examination beyond the surface alignments with consumer capitalism to explain the complex imbrications of religious politics and policies, urban development, and new forms of mobility with spatial strategies and religious activities.


Can you tell us about some of the intellectual and personal reasons you became interested in the subject and themes of your paper, “Beyond Mall Christianity: Megachurches Navigating Southeast Asian Urbanism”?

We grew up in Singapore in the 1990’s when the megachurches were starting to boom in spaces such as old cinema halls in decaying urban centres. When we returned to Singapore in the 2000’s after completing our sociology doctorates, we witnessed the megachurches interacting with the capitalist economy, state-dominated politics and maturing society in ways that piqued our interest. We studied the megachurches separately. Our scholarship began to influence each other’s and it was not long before we collaborated to expand our studies to Southeast Asia.

What is the central argument of your article in a nutshell?

We argue that Pentecostalism is simultaneously transnational and indigenizing in character. And while western Pentecostal megachurches are important reference points in the study of their Southeast Asian counterparts, the latter must be seen as unique with their own sets of interests under specific conditions. We looked at megachurches in Jakarta, Surabaya, Kuala Lumpur, and Manila, and found that

Shopping malls and commercial complexes were also necessary because of local concerns such as hostile neighbourhoods and the targeting of young believers. In other words, these megachurches in Southeast Asia adapt and evolve to flourish according to the conditions they find themselves in.

Were there any unexpected challenges or developments during the process of on-the-ground research?

We found that Christians in Indonesia were more willing to engage and chat than those in Malaysia. This was surprising and we surmised that Indonesian’s plurality and diversity was the reason for this. The pandemic was also another unexpected challenge. We had cut down on the number of fieldtrips and rescoped our research objectives to include understanding the ways these megachurches pivoted to technology and social media to reach out to their congregations.

What might be some of the implications of your argument and research for studies of decentralization (and/or other subjects) beyond Southeast Asia to other parts of Asia and the world?

Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. In studing decentralization or localization, it is crucial to remember that global norms and practices, however broad they are, may be identified in the local. Institutions and individuals often exercise their sense of agency to adopt and adapt practices according to their interests.

What did you find most challenging, rewarding, or interesting about the review process?

The reviewers were very constructive and encouraging, and this helped us to rethink key issues during the review process. The Editor, Hyung-Gu Lynn, was meticulous and sharp, resulting in a more polished and well thought out paper.