Narrating religious experience in East Asia

by on 週五, 26 二月 2010 8259 點擊 評論
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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



最後修改於 週二, 20 五 2014 17:19
Elise Anne DeVido

Elise A. DeVido teaches history at National Taiwan Normal University. She also authored or edited several books and articles for the Taipei Ricci Institute.





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