Voices from the Underworld – Q&A with Fabian Graham

Posted by Alice Hoad - Tuesday, 25 Feb 2020


How would you like someone who has read your book to sum it up in one sentence?

Wow – I wish I had written that!

What book in your field has inspired you the most?

Witchcraft, oracles and magic among the Azande (1937) by Sir Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard. Not only was the gentleman an open minded genius, but the ethnography is eminently readable.

Did your research take you to any unexpected places?

Yes, it took me to night-time cemetery rituals in graveyard plots dedicated to aborted foetuses (foetus spirits) to make offerings to them in Singapore; to being locked inside a coffin for a night-time luck promoting coffin ritual in Malaysia; and, being taken on a journey to the gates of the Underworld by a spirit medium possessed by the Hell deity Tua Ya Pek on my 52nd birthday.

Which writing process do you use (computer, longhand, dictate, other)?

I use a computer with a 27-inch monitor so I can view three documents at a time.

Why did you choose to publish with MUP?

My ontological approach to ethnographic research which allowed me to incorporate interviews with deities as channelled through their spirit mediums into the narrative as key informants fitted perfectly with the Alternative Sinology book series. This approach to researching Chinese vernacular (folk / popular) religion is ground-breaking in the fields of both Sinology and anthropology.

What are you working on now?

I am researching the Nine Emperor God festivals in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, as well as lingji mediums and new deity cults in Taiwan.

If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice when starting out this project, what would it be?

Make the best use of your time, as time is what life is made up of.

If you could have been the author of any book, what would it be and why?

I am That: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj by Maharaj Sri Nisargadatta as it is full of wisdom and beauty.

What other genres do you enjoy reading?

Victorian adventure romance, biographies, and science fiction.

Which authors (academic and not) would you invite to a dinner party?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H Rider Haggard, Issac Asimov, George Orwell and Winston Churchill.



Voices from the Underworld: Chinese hell deity worship in contemporary Singapore and Malaysia is available to buy now.

Fabian Graham is a Research Fellow in the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore.



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