Erenlai - 按標籤顯示項目: religion
週五, 22 六月 2012 15:17

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.

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

 

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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

  

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Shida basketball team doing yoga exercises

 

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Shida basketball team doing yoga exercises

 

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Muslims during prayer time in Grand Mosque in Taipei

 

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

 

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The canteen in Grand Mosque also offers halal zongzi

 

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Relaxing in the mosque after prayer

 

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

 

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Early morning during Baishatun Mazu pilgrimage

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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Eclectic public cemetery in Taipei

 

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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


週三, 29 二月 2012 16:19

From self-exploration and reflection to community: The Baishatun Mazu Pilgrimage

For over a century devotees of the Goddess of the Sea, Mazu (媽祖 lit. Mother Ancestor), 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 afforded by Mother Mazu, who was said to protect the fisherman and sailors on the high seas when she was a living human, known as Lin Moniang. As I lived by the seaside growing up myself I was moved by this significance. This year, as I tracked my way back from my Chinese New Year holiday to urban life in Taipei, I decided to join the devotees on the return leg of their 9-day journey, hoping to find in the ritual space, time and an opportunity for reflection.

The Mazu Pilgrimage (媽祖進香), which literally means an offering of incense, involved more than one thousand pilgrims following by foot Mazu’s jiao(轎)or palanquin, on her journey to the sacred first Mazu temple in Taiwan. While not shunning modern technology - A GPS informs followers of where Mazu is at any point in time – the deity nonetheless has an erratic and unpredictable personality in deciding her path. No one knows which route the unpredictable goddess will take and what locations or occurrences will draw her attention along the way, in fact, the only certainty is that the goddess will arrive at the ancestral temple and will find her way back to her hometown temple. One year Mazu even guided her followers through the cold currents of the Zhuoshui River rather than taking the rather more practical Xiluo Bridge. Mazu indicates the direction she wants to go by leaning and putting more weight on a particular corner of her palanquin, which is held aloft by devotees on their shoulders. The Baishatun Mazu is also fiercely incorruptible by modern politics and etiquette. She is a chaotic force for good, oblivious to any rules that would be imposed upon her. While politics often plagues other religious processions such as the most famous Dajia Mazu, the Baishatun Mazu avoids many of these problems with her anarchical mode of existence. Mazu’s uncontrollable free spirit, nonetheless, seems to give respect to local knowledge, with considerations of geography, the cultural map and mythology of the people and prevailing conditions during the journey.

The Council of Cultural Affairs is now promoting the Baishatun pilgrimage as a distinctive peculiarity of the island's native culture and identity; arguably this may be a strategy to bring this religious activity more closely in line with the needs of the state. But this tradition and community cannot be defined and imposed upon by state ideology. This Mazu pilgrimage is a grassroots, bottom up culture which develops spontaneously in dialogue with the local land and people. It has a thousand different interpretations, and a thousand different truths.

mazu_witek_nick2

With her sometimes cruel sense of humour Mazu mocks state control and rules implemented by faraway experts and institutions. In this festival of passionate religious expression, all the repressions that normally apply to earthly beings are broken or sidestepped. The police seem more like spectators, sighing as Mazu decides to divert troublesomely on to the motorway, or guide her followers through private property bumbling, or a movement I could only describe as 'bianging', aggressively through whatever stands in her path. Throughout the pilgrimage local residents light a barrage of fireworks on the roads, in theory an illegal activity, leaving the pilgrims engulfed in a constant cloud of smoke and the police look on impotently as the palanquin barges on through. This freedom of religious expression and creativity is severely lacking in Mazu’s homeland of southern China, where the government’s tight policy of control of religion leaves little space for such crowd-inducing rituals which are viewed with great suspicion, cutting the local populations off from these potentially de-alienating rituals and connection with the land. What I saw on this pilgrimage showed me that a lack of central control on the body and mind stimulates colour, contrasts and distinctive flavours whilst opening the doors for creative problem solving.

What sets the incorruptible Baishatun Mazu apart from other Mazu pilgrimages is the lack of shackles placed upon the followers forcing them to follow a strict temple doctrine; the space allowed for creativity, is inspiring to its followers without being repressive. Those in good health will follow the whole journey on foot as suixiangtuan, but for those who can’t walk long distances they will follow as jinxiangtuan in their car or a coach, stopping off to pray as Mazu sets off in the early morning. By throwing divination blocks, temple representatives will ask Mazu at what time they will set off in the morning which in my experience ranged from 2am to the early afternoon. This disorganized state allows for diverse interpretations and truths and encourages creativity and innovation. All along the journey individual worshippers happily spend their time and money practically, forcing upon you endless cups of green, red and ginger tea, sports drinks, and cans of Mr Brown coffee, also rarely did an hour pass by without being served lashings of thick soup, sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaf or mantou steamed bread. Many people even go extra lengths to create their own special dishes, such as one man who had been raising fish eggs which he combined with a delicious salmon sauce; each passer-by was treated to one deluxe mouth-watering bite served on a lone potato chip. Almost every house along the way seemed delighted to provide free accommodation to the pilgrims and discuss past stories and inquire as to how Mazu’s mood had been this year. Also known as the Silent Maiden, her mood could only be guessed by each devotee based on observing her interactions with the land and the people.

Each devotee’s belief in Mazu’s powers seems to stem from a different story based on their own personal experience and enlightenment, merely taking part in this year’s walk I encountered a host of different stories which is why I thoroughly recommend readers take part in the procession themselves.

I first heard about this Mazu pilgrimage due to my explorations into the world of performance arts and theatre, more specifically in the year I spent with Sannyas Meditation Theatre, which gets its inspiration from the Butoh tradition and the late Kazuo Ohno. The works of experimental theatre pioneer Jerzy Grotowski inspired a generation of performers to take part in local rituals, in order to make their performance more seamlessly connected to their inner self and local conditions, parenthesizing the alienating performance training they had received, thus making their performance more natural, truer. For me, asides from unfettered curiosity, taking part in the pilgrimage was a chance to enter a very pure state stemming directly from the connection between body and land and to explore how I would develop naturally on from this.

I kicked off my journey in a characteristically inauspicious way. As I was waiting to meet up with a fellow member of the Sannyas Theatre in the sacred Chaotiangong temple in Beigang, I was found to be leaning unawares on Mazu’s palanquin and was quickly exhorted and shuffled away by her stewards. I commenced the walk over-relishing the physical challenge and was perhaps even a little bit competitive. Jogging sections and even giving a friend a piggy back ride, left my knees and ankles suffering heavily over the last few days. I also found myself slightly overindulging in the free food offerings. Perhaps Mazu sensed that I had not yet entered a pure mind while following her as a couple of nights later Mazu appeared twice in my dreams, staring at me sternly and leaving me waking up damp and sweaty. It was not until later that I realised I had started the pilgrimage more as an observer, outsider than a full participant and seamless member of the community. I had heard a thousand different truths and meanings of peoples own experiences of the Mazu procession but I was still in the process of discovering my own, truthful only if based on the personal experience of my body and soul in dialogue with the community.

Photos by Witek Chudy

See the complete photostory by Witek


週一, 31 十月 2011 14:41

Microblogs with Macro Reach: Spirituality Online In China

Sina Weibo is big in China right now. Essentially a microblogging service, it has elements of Facebook and Twitter, both of which (along with YouTube) are banned on the Mainland. With over 400 million users1, Sina Weibo is definitely a hit, and is likely to remain so as long as it does not become a vehicle for dissent and upset or threaten the government. Like all social media, Sina Weibo is overflowing with minutiae. Triumphs and tragedies, love and loathing, it is there for all to see. I enjoyed reading one of my Chinese namesakes wax lyrical about his newly rounded eyes (via eyelid cosmetic surgery). Body modification aside, the communication possibilities that Sina Weibo has generated are proving attractive to many in China, including those in the religious and spiritual spheres.

As I have written before, religion is a constantly evolving and fascinating phenomenon2, even in China where regulations continue to be more restrictive than in other countries in the region3. Here I will profile some of the various characters taking advantage of the enormous opportunity to promote their personalities, organisations and messages through Sina Weibo.

Taiwan’s Dharma Drum Mountain (法鼓山) is a large Buddhist organisation that uses its Sina Weibo account4 to share quotations of spiritual inspiration and considered reflection - “What is self?” and “Success is a beautiful result, failure is a beautiful experience” are two recent thought provoking and decidedly non-menacing examples.

Xing Yun (星云) is a monk who fled China decades ago and has built a massive international Buddhist organisation based at Foguangshan (佛光山) in southern Taiwan. On Sina Weibo he has garnered an impressive 327,593 followers5. Like Dharma Drum Mountain, Xing Yun reaches out to his followers with a stream of short and poignant pieces of Buddhist wisdom. For many years Xing Yun and the late founder of Dharma Drum Mountain, Sheng-yen (聖嚴), would have dreamed about having such direct access to Buddhists in the land of their birth. Sina Weibo now gives them unprecedented reach. However, it is in the less orthodox bloggers that we can find even more innovative examples.

Terry Hu (胡茵夢) is a Taiwanese movie star turned author6. Her works are spiritual in nature, and include a translation of the biography of the 20th century Indian philosopher Krishnamurti. Currently promoting her autobiography, Hu is tapping into her network of Sina Weibo followers to drum up publicity by holding competitions. Those who forward details of her book onto three friends have the opportunity to win more books and the writers of the five most outstanding comments will also win a book. Several hundred bloggers have participated in this marketing ploy.

Another Taiwanese author writing and translating in the ‘body, mind, spirit’ genre (身心靈) is Tiffany Chang (張德芬)7 . Prior to her career as a spiritual figure, Chang was a news anchor on Taiwan’s TTV channel. Aside from writing her own books (Meeting the Unknown Self) and translating popular foreign authors, such as Eckhart Tolle (A New Earth), Chang has produced a short series of videos where she reviews books8 and has assisted Taipei’s Huan-ting zen in Taiwan and China. Demonstrating considerable web savvy, Chang operates a China-based body, mind, spirit website called ‘Inner Space’9. She uses her Sina Weibo account to distribute news of updates on Inner Space to her followers, who number just under 100,000.

Perhaps the most interesting religious figure using Sina Weibo is the young Buddhist monk, Shi Daoxin (釋道心)10. Having accumulated over 189,000 followers, he uses Sina Weibo in a way that some might more associate with a self-absorbed and self-promoting youth. I have never seen a monk demonstrate such fashion sense; Shi Daoxin has a knack for matching his robes with his (often gaudily coloured) glasses. Even if you don’t understand Chinese, scroll down his blog and you will see a fantastic variety of photos.

Shi Daoxin pouting. Shi Daoxin posing wistfully outside a temple. Shi Daoxin rendered as a cartoon. Shi Daoxin meditating. Shi Daoxin meditating next to a naked babe.

The photo of Shi Daoxin meditating behind a penitent-looking female nude is particularly interesting. Apparently the winner of the Virginia Photo Exhibition in the USA, this photo is titled “Mind without obscuration” (心無罣礙) and is re-blogged with a quote from the Heart Sutra: “form is emptiness” (色即是空).

Besides his own manifold images, Shi Daoxin also uses Sina Weibo to disseminate Buddhist teachings, including videos from more established teachers, such as Xing Yun. He has also circulated several of his music videos, including one karaoke-friendly ditty where he sings a Buddhist song while wandering around a temple garden and market. The suitably devout chorus is “Amitabha Buddha, please protect me” (阿彌陀佛,呵護著我). Shi Daoxin has achieved some degree of celebrity, having participated in the TV dating show “The Whole City is Madly in Love” (全城熱戀) and was interviewed on China’s top daytime TV talk show “A Date with Luyu” (魯豫有約).

If there is one thing that this brief survey shows, it is that each of these bloggers is attempting to make religious ideas relevant to life in contemporary China. Methods vary greatly—orthodox or radical, commercial or benevolent—but the bloggers are linked by the common goal of seeking to share a spiritual message with the widest possible audience. Doing so via Sina Weibo does not necessarily dilute the potency of their messages. Writing on religious innovation in contemporary China, the Cambridge anthropologist Adam Yuet Chau recently wrote that

Modern technologies and other non-traditional elements can often be effortlessly incorporated into the framework of traditional idioms and practices, which in turn reveals the dynamic innovability of the traditions themselves11.

Sina Weibo is an ideal example of this innovability. Even the more ‘traditional’ bloggers discussed here, such as Dharma Drum Mountain and Xing Yun, have made a concerted effort over many decades to revitalise Buddhism so it is more relevant to life in the contemporary world. Microblogs are just another stage in the evolution of this process. Not surprisingly, Shi Daoxin also claims to be a disseminator of modern Buddhist culture and art, albeit in his own unique way. For the time being, Shi Daoxin et al will continue to be able to encourage, inspire, question and interact with their followers through Sina Weibo. And when Sina Weibo loses its lustre or is blocked, then I’m sure they will be among the early adopters of the next web platform, whatever it may be.

(Photo courtesy of www.weibo.com/shidaoxin)

 


 

1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/8851585/China-fights-to-silence-the-social-network.html

2.http://bit.ly/rC0vpY

3. http://bit.ly/uVZTtH

4. http://weibo.com/ddmbascc

5. http://weibo.com/1861268640

6. http://weibo.com/1243683297

7. http://weibo.com/1759168351

8. http://www.youtube.com/user/BOOKLIFE1313

9. http://www.innerspace.com.cn/f/index

10. http://weibo.com/shidaoxin

11. Adam Yuet Chau. Religion in Contemporary China: Revitalization and Innovation, Taylor and Francis, 2011, page 20.

 

 


週四, 07 七月 2011 00:00

Romance of the Three Kingdoms: The Sequel

“Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, written in the 14th century, is the most popular Chinese historical novel, based on the tumultuous history of the country during the second and third centuries. A cultural icon, it has lost nothing of its evocative power, revived through TV series, mangas and videogames. Throughout the centuries, its over-complex plot has also provided the Chinese political scene with endless analogies, helping politicians and commentators to assess power relationships, strategies and claims to legitimacy.

No wonder that the “Three Kingdoms” metaphor is still in use. And it serves today to describe the somehow subdued battle going on between the three main ideological forces that divide the Chinese intellectual spectrum, all of them trying to define policy making and future institutional transformations. Roughly speaking, the “Three Kingdoms” are now referred to as Confucianism, Christianity and a populist form of Maoist revival.

Let us start with the latter “Kingdom”: Bo Xilai (薄熙来), Party secretary of Chongqing Special Municipality and a scion of a prominent Communist family, has built up his popularity on the eradication of local mafias (or its substitution by new factions), the building of scores of social housing, and the chanting in group and on TV of revolutionary songs of the past. He has somehow reshaped a “spiritual civilization” based (a) on the comfort of small groups fostering mutual support through chanting together and participating in community activities, (b) on nostalgia for less corrupt times, and (c) on the reassertion of the quasi-religious nature of the Party.  Strangely enough, the model has proven effective, and is now embraced by a growing number of national and local cadres, making the ones who embrace the revival of the Party and the enshrinement its history leading contenders in the political battles to come. For sure, the ultimate motivations behind Bo’s launching of the “Red songs campaign” remain unclear, but it any case it has initiated a movement that has implications going beyond his personal political future. Current dissatisfactions as to inflation and unemployment may give more impetus to this peculiar form of populism.

Confucianism fits better the mind of the leaders and intellectuals who envision the future of China as a continuation and refinement of the current model: meritocracy is the core value, a meritocracy mainly based on technical and administrative expertise; virtue is to be extolled, along with obedience and sense of order; “scientific development” associates with uncritical reverence for China’s long past (while the Populist-Maoist model relies more on generational nostalgia and short-term memory); caution and wisdom anchored into the ruminating of Chinese classics have to predominate over daring attempts at change, so prone is the country to disorder and division.

Finally, “Christianity” is fostered by the rapid growth of Christian churches, joined by people aspiring to a spiritual experience anchored in both personal and community life; at the same time, it clearly posses political undertones as it goes with aspiration to personal freedom and rights understood in the Western sense; such aspiration ultimately implies to relax or even to overcome the Party-State’s overall control on society. “Christians’ are thus often assimilated to people aspiring towards a Western-leaning model, and such people can also be found in leading circles. An example is the one provided by the economist Zhao Xiao (赵晓), who has equaled the historical achievement of the West with its adhesion to Christian beliefs and has converted to Christianity. During the last few years and months, spiritual and political values have been more clearly associated than was the case at the beginning of the “religious fever’ tide, with tensions and debates consequently growing.

“Romance of the Three Kingdoms” is characterized by the intricacy of its plot and the innumerable changes of alliances and fortune that occur. It would thus be unwise to see in the three “Kingdoms” now emerging the sole actors of an ever-evolving drama. But the understanding of the Characters who appear on the stage at a given moment of time might help all observers to better follow the plot yet to unfold.

Photo: C.P.


週一, 25 四月 2011 12:04

Religions and Charities in China

The religious growth that China currently experiences is leading towards a most interesting trend: the organization of faith-based charities.  For sure, such trend is still hampered by a number of factors, but it does express the growing assertiveness of China’s civil society and of its religious groups.


週一, 31 一月 2011 12:17

Going on a Pacific island 'holyday'

When discussing Taiwan’s links with the Pacific islands, it is well worth considering the religious dimension.  I have previously written about the connection that Taiwanese religious groups, in particular New Religious Movements, are seeking to forge with Mainland China[1].  However if we look in the other direction, from the gritty megacities of China to the lightly populated islands of the Pacific Ocean, we can see another current of religiosity that is circulating belief, culture and innovation.

The New Testament Church (NTC) is a small charismatic Protestant Church based at Mount Zion in Kaohsiung County in southern Taiwan. It was founded by a Hong Kong movie star in 1963 and has managed to survive leadership disputes, struggles with the Taiwanese government and natural disasters to now be in its fifth decade.  No small feat for a modestly sized and socially marginalized group. You can watch me give a brief introduction to the NTC here and here.

The NTC believes that God has chosen Taiwan’s Mount Zion instead of the traditional and better-known Mount Zion in Israel.  The mountain serves the important roles of not only being God’s home, but also the venue for the impending Tribulation (when Jesus will descend to Mount Zion and members of the NTC will ascend to heaven).  The NTC has developed Mount Zion into a community of around 300 adherents, complete with agricultural and educational facilities.

Furthermore, the NTC is a passionate and dedicated exponent of organic agriculture.  The rationale behind choosing organic farming over conventional (that is, pesticide-based) farming is that it is the ‘God-based’ way to farm. The NTC equates God’s law of creation, as outlined in the bible, with the natural method of farming.  As the bible does not contain any directive to use chemicals, the church therefore refrains from doing so.  In avoiding such pollutants, the NTC can more easily recreate their ideal of a holy and “Edenic” environment.  It seeks to do this on Mount Zion and at its properties abroad.

Mount Zion is an interesting place for tourists to visit, and one of utmost spiritual importance to the NTC.  However the spiritual power of the mountain is not limited to the peak in Taiwan – other places around the world also share in it.

The NTC has developed a series of ‘Offshoots of Zion’ around the world.  These rural properties are places where the NTC’s international adherents live, worship and farm.  Mostly scattered around Malaysia and the Pacific Rim, there are also two Offshoots of Zion on Pacific Islands – Eden Isle (伊甸島) on Tikehau, Polynesia and Mount Tabor (他泊山) on Tahiti.

Just as in Taiwan, the NTC’s community in the Pacific developed out of the Assemblies of God church. Having established Mount Tabor in 1985, the NTC has around 300 “exclusively Chinese” adherents in Tahiti[2]. The church has not limited itself to one island though, expanding elsewhere in the region.

Inhabited by the NTC since 1993, Eden Isle is a small island where the NTC has an organic farm and open-air church.  Based on reports by visiting sailors, the number of people living on Eden Isle seems to vary between 5 and 10.  This number can swell exponentially when international members of the NTC arrive for religious celebrations and various types of exchange programs.  There are a number of online reports from sailors passing by Tikehau who have been welcomed in by the NTC and given tours of the island[3].

In considering these two Pacific island spiritual centres, Mount Zion in Taiwan, and the NTC that binds them, we can get a glimpse of the dynamics between the two regions.  The main temple on Mount Zion was rebuilt in the late 1980s using indigenous Taiwanese techniques and designs.  In turn, the venues of worship on Eden Isle and Mount Tabor reflect the style of Mount Zion’s temple. Mount Tabor’s temple appears to be an almost perfect copy of Mount Zion’s temple. The Eden Isle temple is smaller and more open than that of Mount Tabor, yet remains true to the form of the temple on Mount Zion.  Yet it is not only a temple template that the NTC has imported.

Representatives of the NTC have been keen to point out to me the work that the church has done in the Pacific with regard to organic farming, particularly innovations in composting methods.  Indeed, the French Polynesian government has even engaged the NTC to provide consultancy services and training in organic farming techniques [4].

However, the flow of knowledge and religious concepts is not simply one-way.  Children from the NTC’s ‘Eden Homestead’ school system spend time in the Pacific centres learning about agriculture, in both its practical and spiritual dimensions.  These children are not just from Taiwan and Malaysia, but also Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA.  In this sense, Eden Isle and Mount Tabor have become the metaphorical hub of a trans-Pacific ‘spiritual wheel’, circulating the beliefs of the NTC around the Pacific Rim.

The traditional costumes and accoutrements of the Pacific islands have also made their way back to Mount Zion. For instance, whereas once couples were married at Mount Zion wearing western-style wedding outfits, now they dress in more simple outfits that demonstrate a Pacific influence (through accessories such as floral garlands, shell belt buckles and bare feet)[5].  Alternatively, dressing like this could also reflect Taiwan’s own indigenous traditions.  Either way, it contrasts starkly with the modern wedding traditions that are so popular in Taiwan.

The New Testament Church is only small and has a fledgling presence in the Pacific. Nevertheless, it is a pertinent example of how a decidedly non-mainstream Taiwanese organization has created a presence in there. The NTC's exchange of ideas – be they religious, agricultural or cultural – is multifaceted and of use to us when trying to conceive how Taiwan sits in relation to its Pacific Island neighbours.

Photo: P.F.

[1] http://www.erenlai.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3982:an-overview-of-religious-life-in-modern-taiwan&catid=688:october-2010&Itemid=331&lang=en

[2] http://chinaperspectives.revues.org/1118#tocto2n3

[3] http://www.thebigvoyage.com/the-pacific/tikehau-day-2-lagoon-excursion/

[4] http://tahitipresse.pf/2009/12/le-bio-une-voie-davenir-pour-lagriculture-polynesienne/

[5] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeFTDGwo8sA


週一, 13 十二月 2010 22:33

New Religions in China

An Italian translation of this article appeared in the December 2010 edition of popoli and is a continuation of some ideas raised in eRenlai's October 2010 Focus on religious innovation in East Asia.

To recap, the term 'new religious movement' was originally coined as a less loaded alternative to 'cult'.  It represents an attempt to classify new religious groups that are either a brand new conception of reality, a reinterpretation of an existing belief system or transplanted beliefs in a foreign land. Such groups are continuously evolving all over the world, and China is no exception.


週五, 24 九月 2010 19:31

Brainwashing! Suicide! Drugs! Abuse! Or, how to understand religious innovation in the modern world

To the casual observer, the first four words in the headline might come to mind when thinking of new religious movements (NRMs), or to use the pejorative term generally used by the media, cults. It seems that such groups are easy fodder for editors, given the mainstream media’s lack of expertise in the field and willingness to generate eye-catching headlines to boost circulation.

Indeed, it is the controversial groups that dominate the public sphere. Be they ‘classics’ of the field such as the People’s Temple at Jonestown, Heaven’s Gate or the Branch Davidians, or somewhat ‘mysterious’ groups from East Asia such as the Moonies, Aum Shinrikyo or Falun Gong. These are the groups that the average person will most likely have come across in newspapers and magazines and on current affairs shows.

Religion remains an ever-evolving phenomenon. Of course, what is now old was new once upon a time. As a high school student in 1993, I remember watching TV reports of the Branch Davidian siege at Waco and thinking of the group’s leader, David Koresh, “What if he is right? What if he actually is the messiah?”. Who can actually prove this? If, like Koresh, Jesus Christ arrived in the time of satellite TV (and now the internet), would he have met a similar fate?  The Waco stand-off was a profoundly unfortunate and complicated event. While this is not the place to examine that further, the event gave law-makers, the media, the public and other religious groups much to think about.  Perhaps one of this biggest issues to come out of Waco was the importance of successfully engaging with religious groups.

Even after thousands of years, the spiritually legitimacy of figures such as Christ, Buddha and Mohammed remain hotly contested. No one needs to be reminded of just how passionate people can be in defending their faith, against attacks real or perceived. Religious conflict is an ongoing and unfortunate fact of life for many people around the world and it occurs on every different scale - from nations to neighbourhoods.

When it comes to NRMs, be they old religions in a new setting or with a new organisational structure (Tibetan Buddhism outside of Tibet, Indian gurus in the West) or a whole new conception of reality (Scientology), one common thread is public misunderstanding. Not that the public necessarily wants to misunderstand, it's just that sometimes a broader perspective can be hard to come by.  And this misunderstanding is amplified when tragedies occur. Not only does sexual misconduct and financial deception remain a problem in all religions – new and old, East and West – it continues to do so in many other facets of society. Schools, places of employment, social clubs, even (gasp!) families can be dangerous to one’s well being. Anti-social behaviour is by no means limited to religious groups.

And it is this unyieldingly unsatisfying world that drives people to seek solace in faith, something that many around the world now have a choice in. These groups – NRMs, traditional religions, self help courses, the New Age movement and so on – all help people find some meaning in their life, give them some way of negotiating the highs and lows that come to all of us every day. When a scandal occurs in a religion – and they do – the adherents of that particular religion are likely to be as shocked, if not more so, than the general public is. Individuals and families can be left devastated by the actions of unscrupulous religious leaders.

This edition of eRenlai is not to tell you which faith is the holiest and most efficacious or threatening and secretative.  Nor is it an advertisement for NRMs. Rather, it is a chance to look at some of the new forms of spirituality that have evolved in Asia in recent times. By looking at some of the innovations in religion over recent decades, hopefully we can better understand the methods that people are employing to make sense of life on this planet. Better still, next time a religious group becomes a tabloid controversy, hopefully we can look beyond the headlines and try to appreciate the underlying forces at work.

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All photos by P. Farrelly


週五, 06 八月 2010 16:08

The boundary between religion and the state in China

In this video Professor John Lagerwey examines the boundary between the state and religion in China.  Importantly, he identifies the problems that arise when attempting to understand Chinese religiosity through a Western religious framework, rather than through a Chinese cultural one.

This video is an excerpt from Professor Lagerwey's presentation on 11 May 2010 at the "Dialogue among Civilizations and Global Challenges" forum hosted by the Xu-Ricci Dialogue Institute at Fudan University, Shanghai.

Professor Lagerwey is the Professor for Chinese Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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週六, 24 三月 2007 18:10

Web 2.0 and the Diversity of World Catholicism

With some 1.1 billion members, the Catholic Church is the world’s largest single religious body. It is also becoming more and more universal. While, in the past, the majority or the clergy and the faithful, were of Western, especially European origin, the transformation occurred during the last fifty years have been astounding. Africa has seen the number of Catholics growing exponentially, and, because of demographic shifts, Latin America and, to a lesser degree, Asia have also increased their share within the Church. It can be safely predicted that the Catholic Church will be less and less a European one. These changes had been well prepared by the second Vatican Council, held at the beginning of the sixties, which opened the Church to the modern world and to the diversity of cultures.
At the sane time, the Church is undergoing a number of crises: in its former strongholds, such as Western Europe, its influence is faltering; in Latin America, the appeal of Protestant fundamentalist cults is growing; in the US and elsewhere the sex abuse scandal has weakened the clergy; new scientific challenges, especially in the bioethics field, oblige the Church to reexamine part of its teachings; women are looking for a more recognized role within the hierarchical structure of the Church; and the dialogue with other religions, especially with Islam, is not only as smooth as could be desired….

The future of the Catholic Church is not of interest for Catholics alone. As one of the biggest and most influential organizations in the world, Catholicism exercises an influence that goes far beyond the number of the faithful. This is very clear in Taiwan. Though the number of Catholics is very modest (a little over 300,000, as far as this can be asserted), the church has been extremely influential and effective in operating institutional and medical facilities, and its cultural reach is not limited to parishes. Its role in organizing and energizing aboriginal communities has been and continue to be important. At the same time, its has not fulfilled the hopes that it cold have in the xsixties when it started to spread around the island. The Church is older and less creative than it was three decades ago. In Taiwan as elsewhere the Catholic church is indeed at the crossroads.

Will we move towards a Web 2.0 model for the Church? However important the clergy might be, the Church is built around the “people of God’ – the faithful. Throughout the voice of ordinary Catholics we can also discern which road the Church has to take. Each day we have to decide anew tot ake on the road rather than standing at the crossroads…

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