Erenlai - Focus: Religious Practice in Images
Focus: Religious Practice in Images

Focus: Religious Practice in Images

Friday, 22 June 2012

Taiwanese spirituality in photography

Photographing people's spirituality is not an easy task - first you need to gain trust of the people you want to photograph and often even that will not be enough, as spiritual practices are for many something too personal, or sometimes sacred, to be shown. I attempted nevertheless and made a collection that shows diversity of Taiwanese spiritual and religious life, and although it is not even close to fully show the abundance of spirituality on the island, it does provide a glimpse of it. I omitted some of the biggest religious groups in Taiwan in order to show spirituality in Taiwan in a new light. Further, I treat this collection as a beginning of a bigger and long lasting project of photographing religious and spiritual life in Taiwan.


Dada Kaladharananda showing a yoga posture in Ananda Marga center in Taipei


Professor Shi Mingzong – coach of Shida basketball team talks to his players
during a yoga session in Ananda Marga center in Taipei. His son also participates in exercises


Shida basketball team doing yoga exercises


Shida basketball team doing yoga exercises


Muslims during prayer time in Grand Mosque in Taipei


Fridays are the only days when muslims can come to the Grand Mosque
to buy halal meat imported from Australia and New Zeland


The canteen in Grand Mosque also offers halal zongzi


Relaxing in the mosque after prayer


Pilgrims to Baishatun kneeling for hours to receive Mazu’s blessing


Early morning during Baishatun Mazu pilgrimage


Mourners watch how a coffin with their deceased relative is being cremated. With assistance of a buddhist monk


A collection of flower essence in a New Age bookstore next to NTU main gate


A todler with his grandmother on the grounds of the neat Mormon temple in Taipei


Postcards with pictures from the LDS temple sold in a shop near the temple in Taipei


Wednesday bible reading and experience sharing group
in the Catholic Sacred Heart Church in Taipei - lead by American nun and the parish priest

Bible in front of one of the members of the Wednesday group



Eclectic public cemetery in Taipei


Jay Caffin – a spiritual healer who now lives and practices in Kaohsiung


Photography and editing by Witold Chudy (Photo no.1: Graves of Italian missionaries to Yunnan)

Photo no. 13 (flower essence) by Cerise Phiv

Friday, 22 June 2012

Mount Zion – Eden in Taiwan

Mount Zion (錫安山, xi’an shan) is home to the New Testament Church (新約教會, xinyue jiaohui, NTC) who believe it to be God’s chosen Mountain and as the “spiritual Israelites”, their rightful home. According to the NTC, God has forsaken the long-recognized Mount Zion in Israel and now its spiritual qualities are imbued on this isolated mountain in south-central Taiwan. Mount Zion is both the Eden of the present and venue for the Tribulation in the future, when the members of the NTC will be raptured into Heaven.

I have written extensively about Mount Zion before and you can find a history of the mountain here and a piece on how the NTC responded to the devastation of Typhoon Morakot in 2008 here.

Mount Zion is covered in sites of protest, prayer and adoration. This photographic essay points out some of the most intriguing images and draws from my visits there in 2007, 2008 and 2010. For those of us with weak Chinese language skills, the NTC has diligently translated much of its material into English.


{slimbox images/stories/Mountzion/14.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_14.jpg, The rock at the base of the mountain was washed away by the raging Qishan river (旗山溪) during Typhoon Morakot; images/stories/Mountzion/26.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_26.jpg, Fortunately a new boulder was washed in to take the old one’s place; images/stories/Mountzion/15.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_15.jpg, The Cherubim gate greets visitors who are about to ascend the mountain from Highway; images/stories/Mountzion/17.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_17.jpg, The dining room in the main centre can cope with dozens of visitors. Note the large omega (Ω) to the left – this symbol is prominent in the NTC theology promulgated by the NTC’s current leader, Elijah Hong; images/stories/Mountzion/18.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_18.jpg, You can buy products from Mount Zion and other NTC farms around the world (known as the “Offshoots of Zion”) at the visitor centre; images/stories/Mountzion/19.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_19.jpg, NTC members are often seen doing chores around the mountain; images/stories/Mountzion/10.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_10.jpg, NTC members are often seen doing chores around the mountain; images/stories/Mountzion/11.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_11.jpg, Poster flanking the altar in the Holy Temple; images/stories/Mountzion/12.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_12.jpg,Poster flanking the altar in the Holy Temple; images/stories/Mountzion/13.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_13.jpg, The Zion Tree House is adjacent to the Holy Temple; images/stories/Mountzion/21.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_21.jpg,Guides are on hand to explain aspects of Mount Zion and the NTC to tourists. Here visitors are inside the Holy Temple listening to an NTC tour guide; images/stories/Mountzion/22.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_22.jpg, This multi-story car park was built for tourist cars and buses; images/stories/Mountzion/23.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_23.jpg, You can see the reinforcements on the side of the mountain. These stretch down to the river and may have helped save Mount Zion from erosion during Typhoon Morakot; images/stories/Mountzion/24.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_24.jpg, You can see the reinforcements on the side of the mountain. These stretch down to the river and may have helped save Mount Zion from erosion during Typhoon Morakot; images/stories/Mountzion/01.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_01.jpg, Contrasting sharply with the serenity of the mountain, graphic posters such as this warn of impending natural disasters as part of the Tribulation;images/stories/Mountzion/02.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_02.jpg, There are many posters extolling the virtues of the NTC and its leader, and some offer incendiary denunciations of the KMT, with whom the NTC suffered a protracted dispute (leading to a temporary eviction from Mount Zion) in the early 1980s;images/stories/Mountzion/04.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_04.jpg, This monument is called “Truth triumphs over despotism” and is the mangled remains of a symbolic boat chimney that the NTC erected—and KMT destroyed—during the church’s exile at the base of the mountain; images/stories/Mountzion/05.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_05.jpg,The mountain is covered in signs quoting Bible verses and this one is in front of the David Citadel. If you are interested, more signs can be found here; images/stories/Mountzion/07.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_07.jpg, The New Testament Church strongly advocates organic agriculture and Mount Zion is home to an active farm; images/stories/Mountzion/08.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_08.jpg, The original Holy Temple—claimed by the NTC to have been razed by the KMT—now houses a museum memorialising the pioneers of Mount Zion; images/stories/Mountzion/09.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_09.jpg, The original Holy Temple—claimed by the NTC to have been razed by the KMT—now houses a museum memorialising the pioneers of Mount Zion}


Photos and text by Paul Farrelly

Edited by Daniel Pagan Murphy



Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The quiet strength of Ananda Marga

Dada Kaladharananda demonstrated yoga to us.

Ananda Marga is a global, spiritual and social organization which engages in Yoga and Tantra(密宗) founded in 1955 by Shrii Shrii Anandamurti (Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar). The mission of Ananda Marga is self-realization (individual emancipation) and service to humanity (collective welfare). Through its meditation centers and service projects around the world, Ananda Marga offers instruction in meditation, yoga and other self-development practices on a non-commercial basis, and responds to social emergencies (such as natural disaster relief) and long-term social needs. Dada Kaladharananda, who is in charge of the Ananda Marga Meditation Assoctiation in Taipei yoga house, told us they participate in lots of social activities in Taiwan, such as visiting more than 12 care centers for the elderly, schools for the mentally challenged, junior and senior high schools, Tucheng Juvenile detention home and also  Taipei Prison.

In Taiwan, Ananda Marga claims that 100.000 people have participated in their activities, although the  number of returning active members is around 1,000.

Sunday, 01 July 2012

“Finding the most suitable spiritual path”: Taipei’s new age store


Books, crystals, tarot cards, books, statues, therapeutic oils, more books, Tibetan Thangkas and pyramids. And then some more books. And plenty of CDs too.

Taipei’s Making Life Buddhist New Age (佛化人生新時代) store is snuggled six stories above the reverberating roar of Roosevelt Road, a short walk from National Taiwan University. Trading since 1984, the shop’s goal has been to help people “attain a state of equilibrium in body, mind and spirit”. As you will see in these photos, the store stocks a smorgasbord of books and accouterments that the public can purchase as part of their religious, spiritual or psychological development and practice. Judging from my recent regular visits, the store is never short of eager patrons.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Exploring the rise of Taiwanese Mormons

Two young missionaries overlooking Taipei. Original photo by Benjamin Lee.

Living in Taiwan, it is a common sight to see a pair of clean-cut foreigners dressed in suits riding around in bicycles and approaching people in the street. They are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and their numbers are ever-rising in Taiwan, according to their official records at least.

Wednesday, 02 May 2012

Under Gods - Stories from Soho Road

On the surface it appears to be a street like any other. But when you stop to look, to really look, you can see the subtle differences. The differences that, when combined together, make this street completely different to any other. Photographer Liz Hingley takes us on a tour of one of the most religiously diverse areas in England, Soho Road in Birmingham. Through her Under Gods collection she aims to show us that coexistence between different faiths is not only possible, but is essential in today’s world. With this article we invite you to reflect on the meaning of faith and how religion does not have to be an instrument for hatred, but rather a way to bring different people together.

What I feel makes Liz’s project precious, is that her pictures do not simply record religious life of the Soho Road from a perspective of a passer-by. These pictures are a result of personal relationships of the photographer with the subjects over a sustained period of time and show us the intimate situations that would be impossible to photograph without devoting oneself wholeheartedly to the project - not as a professional, but rather as a curious person with no agenda on their mind, wishing to learn through observation and interaction. The author was accepted into homes, churches, prayer rooms etc. only after having won over trust and sympathy of the people she photographed. It is always a difficult task for a photographer and often requires spending a lot of time on discussions and casual talking before becoming “invisible” and being granted a right to enter into the private lives of the subjects and record them. Liz did her job perfectly and created a collection that shows the diversity of religions along the Soho Road, captures the unique atmosphere of religious practices and also gives the viewers an insight into emotions of the subjects’ in their private lives. It also reflects the photographer’s personal experiences, her kind nature, strong ethics and, of course, her brilliant eye and great photographic skills, as many pictures in the story are strong enough to stand alone as fine pieces of visual art.


About Liz from her webpage:

Liz graduated from Brighton University with a first class BA Honours in Editorial Photography in 2007. She went on to receive a two-year scholarship with FABRICA research and communications department in Italy. She completed an MSc with distinction in Social Anthropology at University College London in 2011. 'Under Gods’ stories from Soho road was published in March 2011 By Dewi Lewis publishing. She recently received the Getty Image Grant to continue her work raising awareness for the cycle of child poverty in the developed world. Liz is currently artist in residence at The Migration Research Unit based in University College London. She regularly works with other educational institutions; lecturing and leading workshops. Liz is undertaking her own research into the trade of religious goods in Paris and China. Liz is a member of picturetank agency and pleased to use KODAK Portra 800



Under Gods - entire photostory on Liz's website. You can also find out there about other projects undertaken by Liz Hingley

An interesting article about Under Gods at



Friday, 22 June 2012

Jay Caffin – spiritual healer

Jay Caffin is a spiritual healer who now lives and practices in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. He uses his ability to perceive energy and communicates with it in order to help people, and to solve problems of the material world. I talked to him about the energy - his greatest passion and work.

Sunday, 01 July 2012

Mazu procession - photostory

The Mazu jinxiang (媽祖進香), or offering of incense, involves thousands of pilgrims following Mazu's jiao(轎)or palanquin by foot, on her spontaneous journey to the sacred first Mazu temple in Taiwan. For over a century the Goddess of the Sea, Mazu (媽祖 lit. Mother Ancestor) devotees from the Gongtian Temple in Baishatun, Miaoli County, have flocked to Beigang's Chaotian Temple in Yunlin County for an annual 400-plus km pilgrimage in the 2nd Lunar month of the year. They participate for the blessings, protection and fortune of Mother Mazu, who was said to protect the fishermen and sailors on the high seas when she was a human being, known as Lin Moniang.

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