Our work examines the work of constructing domestic overland roads and bridges within the Republic of the Maldives. This archipelago of atolls stretches across 90,000 square kilometres, but of that vast territory only less than 300 square kilometres is comprised of dry land. The country includes within its territorial waters two major deep-water channels important for Indian Ocean shipping between South Asia and the Middle East. Chinese infrastructure projects in the country have, however, focused extensively – indeed almost exclusively – on projects facilitating wheeled transport across and between strategically selected islands.
We investigate two areas in which the impact of New Silk Road connections can be seen as contributing to religious change in the islands. The first explores incidents of unexpected spiritual encounters that have been unintentionally afforded by the spaces and connections brought into existence by BRI infrastructure projects, and in particular by the Sinamalé Bridge. The second examines the impact of Chinese and Saudi Arabian interventions on imaginations of both Islam and development in the recalibration of Maldivian national identity.
“The Ghost on the Bridge: Infrastructure and Local Experience of New Links between China and the Muslim World along a Watery Stretch of the Belt Road” (*In preparation for submission to Asian Ethnology )
This study examines the unexpected social effects that have accompanied the flows of goods, people, and ideas facilitated by recent Chinese and Saudi Arabian infrastructure investments in the Maldives. In this archipelago of coral atolls, the signature projects associated with this have been focused on facilitating wheeled transport across and between strategically selected islands. Our work here combines a critical perspective on the geopolitical dynamics of these projects and ethnographic engagements with local residents to present a window on to how macro-dynamics of international development and contemporary discursive formations of global Islam are understood and experienced in local communities on these islands at the center of a re-imagined Indian Ocean World.
“Dreams about Development: Infrastructure, Islam and Maldivian Identity” [* Planned submission for the BRINFAITH project edited volume.]
This paper examines the religious and nationalist imaginations of the Maldivian people amidst the geopolitical dynamics of infrastructure investments of China, India and Saudi Arabia in the country. The interventions of these much larger and wealthier nations into the physical environment, national economy, and local culture of the Maldives have had deep and complex implications for the lives of many in this exclusively Muslim Indian Ocean island nation. Our research interrogates some of the abstract dimensions of infrastructure spaces to explore the ways development projects play in to the negotiation of power politics in the Indian Ocean region as the connections extend in and beyond the borders and waters of the Maldive Islands. We explore the geopolitical interests and discursive deployment of global development jargon within the tumultuous domestic political arena in order to better understand the ways in which international investment for infrastructure development projects are brought to bear on local conversations about the national identity of Maldives in relation to both the broader Muslim world, and the shifting patterns of inter-Asian relations in the twenty-first century.