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“Healing the Mind in Cambodia” Presentation by Inger Agger & Alexandra Kent at NIAS 2 Oct

October 2, 2013 - 15:00-17:00

The lecture will start with a 30 min. film screening, followed by a 30 min. talk by Alexandra Kent, after which there will be plenty of time for Q&A.

During her fieldwork in Cambodia in 2011, the Danish psychologist and researcher, Inger Agger, has asked survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime how they experience the present justice process of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (ECCC).  The film approaches this question from three major psychological perspectives: Survivors’ personal experience of the transitional justice process; self-healing processes initiated by survivors; and the role of the researcher and her Cambodian colleague in establishing an open and intimate dialogue concerning these issues. Important objectives of Inger Agger’s research have been to explore the role of Buddhism in the process of healing and reconciliation, and to inspire and strengthen respect for local approaches to healing trauma. The survivors of mass atrocities Inger Agger has met and interviewed include Buddhist monks, nuns and witnesses of the Tribunal, and in the film they explain how they have lived and dealt with the painful events they have experienced, and the significance of the present justice process for their healing. The film explores how a local religious healing systems may make sense of and resolve the personal healing processes of survivors, and how a Western justice concept can be understood as a part of the natural law of Karmic justice, whereby the Tribunal process and Buddhism may reinforce each other. In January – February 2013 Dr. Agger has screened and discussed the film with various audiences in Cambodia and other countries in Southeast Asia using the film as a platform for debates about healing processes and the relationship between transitional justice and healing approaches”.
Justice and Healing in Cambodia? (2012, 30 mins.)
Inger Agger (Director & Manuscript), Sofie Rordam (Co-director & Manuscript), Dignity – Danish Institute Against Torture, Copenhagen, Denmark (Producer), Jorgen Rosenhoff (Photographer & Editor), Taing, Sopheap (Interviewer & Translator in Cambodia, Transcultural Psychosocial Organization – TPO), Sophanneary Sar (Translator in Denmark), James Hotham (Voice-over). Documentary, 30 minutes, 2012. Supported by the Danish Research Council for Independent Research: Culture and Communication (FKK).

Inger Agger’s film depicts some of the most significant ways in which Cambodians from different walks of life today are trying to come to terms with their traumatic past. As a follow up to her nuanced production, Alexandra Kent will be saying a few words about my own work over the past decade on the revival of Buddhism in Cambodia and on its relationship to Cambodians’ struggle to reconstitute moral order. A leading motif in the efforts of many Cambodians, particularly the rural clergy and the poor is the need to control the heart/mind (Khmer: ‘chet’) in order to transcend the desire and dissatisfaction (dukkha), and thus to behave in accordance with the teachings of Buddhist virtue.
The Khmer term for well-being – sok – requires overcoming of dukkha not only for the individual but, through the mindful and virtuous action of each individual, also for the community. It is by controlling the ‘chet’ that sinful action and, consequently, suffering may be reduced.
Although some of the cardinal principles of Buddhism are in harmony with the notion of the Rule of Law – impartiality, independence and moral rectitude among arbiters of disputes – the Khmer Rouge Tribunal is not simply a forum for administering justice according to such lofty ideals but is also the stage for a shadow play or “virtual trial” in which current Prime Minister Hun Sen’s authoritarianism is being tested against the United Nations. It will inevitably yield a national (and international) narrative that will exclude the narratives of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians and others.
Referring back to Inger Agger’s pertinent film, I shall be reflecting upon how the issues her work raises resonate with my own findings when conducting anthropological fieldwork on Buddhism, politics and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal between 2002-2012.

NIAS Associate, Licensed Psychologist, PhD, Inger Agger has done research on trauma, memory and healing in the context of organized violence in Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and the Philippines) since 2006. From 2010-12 she conducted fieldwork in Cambodia on local approaches to healing.
Read more about Inger Agger and Testimonial Therapy & the Life Project on the In Focus Blog.

Alexandra Kent is an Associate Professor of Social Anthropology. She has conducted fieldwork on religion and politics in India, Malaysia and, most recently, Cambodia. Her work in post-conflict Cambodia has examined the relationship between power and the revival of Buddhism. In recent years, she has also explored the interface between international and national staff working at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

Venue: NIAS, big meeting room – Øster Farimagsgade 5, 1353 CPH K
Registration necessary to katrine.herold@nias.ku.dk by Tuesday 1 October 2013

“Healing the Mind in Cambodia” Presentation by Inger Agger & Alexandra Kent at NIAS 2 Oct


October 2, 2013