Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: spirituality and religion
Friday, 26 February 2010 00:00

Narrating religious experience in East Asia

Religions in East Asia today have undergone transformations similar to the ones happening in other parts of the world. No longer are religious creeds, affiliations and practices taken for intangible realities, be it in metropolis or in rural settlements. At the same time, stressing one’s religious identity can be a way to assert a person’s or a community’s set of cultural, ethnic or social features that once were going unchallenged.

The diversity of creeds and rituals is more and more striking, as new religious movements appear every day. Such diversity also affects traditional faiths and practices as they experience revival and changes induced by external influences. Looked at from a distance, the East Asian religious psyche experiences the tensions that can be noted in East Asian societies as a whole: a strong affinity with contemporary values and technologies mixes with a nostalgia for things past; individual fulfilment meets with a stress on community values and support; the quest for harmony and inner peace goes along with an unceasing curiosity for the hybrid, colourful and ever evolving post-modern culture.

Religious experience derives from and - at the same time - is translated into specific creeds and practices. The content of the faith professed induces fears, hopes, guilt, longings and similar feelings. Large or small-scale rituals nurture a sense of affiliation, exaltation or quieting down. These feelings in turn give their intensity to the creeds and rituals that have produced them. But religious experience is also translated into narratives of various kinds. Mythical tales, hagiographies, the story of one’s conversion, the enacting of certain rituals are all narratives, even if a Taoist ritual or a Catholic mass for instance can also be analysed from alternative angles. Sure enough, “narratives” are multi-layered. A Catholic mass for instance is composed of a set of different narratives – the ones induced by the liturgical readings, the recitation of the Credo (the narrative structure of which has become a topos of contemporary theology), the re-enactment of the last Supper that gives its structure and meaning to the ceremony as a whole. And the recording of a mass on the occasion of a priestly ordination for instance will make it a second-level narrative. In the same vein, an exorcism in far-away Liangshan (the Cool Mountains), Sichuan Province, is based on the recitation of a set of genealogies – those of the healer, of the family, of the ghost and even of the animal killed for the sacrifice - a practice that makes storytelling and ritual one and the same performance.

The East Asian way of narrating one’s religious experience might well turn around what it means to trespass boundaries – a risk and a chance to be run. The trespassing might have to do with the limits separating this world from the outer world, ordinary experiences from extraordinary ones; meditation from illumination, lay status from clerical dignity; narrative trespassing might also be a way of dealing with a variety of religious affiliations; it might challenge the religious, social and political boundaries. Rituals fix the rules through which the trespassing can take place while dealing with its social and institutional effects – they make the trespassing possible while deciding on the level of trespassing not to be trespassed... The recording of narrations and rituals is often meant to enhance their religious or social effects. At the same time, it might induce a temptation to categorize them into well-known genres and pre-conceived identities, such ignoring the fluidity observed on the field and in daily life. Linking creeds and rites into a consistent whole, “videotaping”, might paradoxically deny the space and role of the story that plays at the articulation between beliefs and rituals. However, when videotaping recognises its own status as a story within the long chain of stories told and retold, it does make the narrative rebound and it further concurs to the ultimate end of East Asian religious storytelling: allowing for the creed to be lived and experienced, and for the ritual to be re-enacted.

This is an excerpt of the book edited by Elise A. DeVido and Benoit Vermander, "Creeds, Rites and Videotapes, Narrating religious experiences in East Asia"

Buy the book at the eRenlai online bookstore




Friday, 26 February 2010 00:00

Idols and sutra-chanting in churches

We asked the Archbishop Shan-Chuan Hung S.V.D. about examples of religious dialogue in a local setting; after mentioning the meeting between a Taiwanese Cardinal and the Dalai Lama, where Catholicism was creating space for dialogue where the Dalai Lama had otherwise received a cold reception. This is Catholicism’s dialogue with the world.

Indeed dialogue does not come without difficulties. In August of last year his church in Yilan was celebrating its 50th year, the local temple’s sutra-chanting troupe brought some Tudigong idols to the pay their respects to the church. The following day there was accusations that we had been worshiping false idols. However the troupe had first joined in singing some hymns and indeed left before mass formally started. Cardinal Hong was very upset about them being criticised in the media and by some members of the parish as he felt that the sutra-chanters had genuinely wanted to congratulate.

If a Buddhist monk was sat calmly at the back of the room and we forced him to leave, that would mean that the church still didn’t treat all as equals. Jesus said: ‘I love benevolence more than sacrifice’. If they are willing to take part in our ceremonies, who says they won’t be capable of hearing the voice of God, of knowing him.
For me this situation is not a crisis, but a turning point, an opportunity for Christians to be re-educated. To appreciate the good hearts of others is a valuable life lesson. So Catholics should not try to cleanse the church of this type of activity and instead reflect and discuss, as this could be the match that lights the fire, releasing the flame of truth.







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