Precarious temple in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam. Living with yearly flooding and under the protection of Buddha and the deity of the soil (Source: Pascal Bourdeaux, 2005).
At the Sources of the Sacred: Evoking Nature and its Cults by Listening to the Rivers


  • Pascal Bourdeaux École Pratique des Hautes Études EPHE-PSL




Zones of fluvial influence, which were the cradles of many human societies both past and present, are key in today’s discourse on how to manage water, culture and heritage in ways that are compatible with sustainable development. Water/river customs have served environmental/cultural practices. This article discusses the interdependence or dissociation between “nature/water” and “culture,” which has forged a more or less strict dualism depending on specific religious frameworks. This dualism can be critically analyzed by sociology, phenomenology and political ecology. The relationship between the reverence accorded to the “sacred” and “nature” and how humans have maintained this respect is however not enough when addressing environmental crises. Could a new approach involve exploiting religious history to restore practical and moral meaning to contemporary challenges, including water-related environmental issues? Very few research programs or development projects really consider transdisciplinary and transcultural perspectives. A suggestion would be to combine the history of science, the comparative history of religious beliefs, the political sciences and cultural studies to define a “global history of religious ecology.” This would aid understanding of the multiplicity of religious conceptions of nature.

How to Cite

Bourdeaux, P. (2023). At the Sources of the Sacred: Evoking Nature and its Cults by Listening to the Rivers. Blue Papers, 2(2).





challenges, concepts and new approaches

Author Biography

Pascal Bourdeaux, École Pratique des Hautes Études EPHE-PSL

Pascal Bourdeaux, Doctor of history and Vietnamese language graduate, has been a lecturer at the École Pratique des Hautes Études since 2007 and a statutory member of the Groupe Sociétés, Religions, Laïcités GSRL (UMR 8582 EPHE-CNRS) since 2010. His initial work focused on the history of Hòa Hảo Buddhism, an expression of religious modernity and the southern culture of Vietnam. His complementary field studies aimed more broadly at the analysis of contemporary socio-religious specificities of the Mekong Delta to understand what defines the “river civilization” and how it was historically inserted into the framework of the nation-state. As part of the activities carried out during his delegation to the French School of the Far East from 2012 to 2015, Pascal initiated a multidisciplinary research program on the sociocultural and environmental transformations of the Mekong Delta, which aimed at promoting the local literary and written heritage. He is also a member of the Rivers committee for the Initiatives for the Future of Great Rivers (IAGF).


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