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Contemporary Chinese Religions

Session Chair: Xiaoyun Zheng | Monday, August 24, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

Jacob Friedemann Tischer

The Politics of Culture and Public Religion in Taiwanese Communal Temples

In contemporary Taiwan, communal temples have become important power bases for increasingly translocal elites active in what are considered to be functionally different, secular realms such as politics and the economy. Their political significance includes candidates for office campaigning at important temples. One of the main reasons for this public significance is the temples’ provisioning of nodal points for social networks. Lack of an institutional separation of religious and secular realms has enabled the elite to move unimpeded between these realms. Community temples have thus become public institutions that interlink networks across the religious-secular divide. Notwithstanding, “spiritual” intrusion into the affairs of “secular” politics has been criticized as obstructing democracy; in response, temple managers tend to move Minjian xinyang (“popular belief”) away from the realm of “religion” by emphasizing its “cultural” value as local heritage, thus adding legitimacy by referring to an aspect more unambiguously associated with state control.

Shun-hing Chan

The Political Influence of the Protestant Churches in Hong Kong

This paper seeks to examine the political influence of the Protestant churches in Hong Kong. Drawing the theory of religious influence formulated by Paul Djupe and Christopher Gilbert, this paper examines how the Protestant churches facilitate the development of socio-religious subcultures – collections of individuals who form attachments that persist inside and outside formal church structures. Membership in these subculture units opens up organizational channels that transmit political information, resulting in numerous salient conduits for political influence within a congregation. This study uses both survey and interview as research methods for a full test of the effects of the Protestant churches on the political behavior of their members. The research findings will provide a better understanding of how voluntary associations expose individuals to political information and norms, and how public opinion is formed and why people participate in politics.

Jens Reinke

Constructing a Modern Pure land: Pure Land Practice at Dharma Drum Mountain

In recent years scholars have begun research on Pure Land in Chinese Buddhist history. Here, contrary to the situation in Japan, Pure Land doesn’t constitute a school but is a part of general Buddhist practice. However, most works focus on pre-modern forms of the tradition and very little has been done on the contemporary situation of Pure Land in Chinese Buddhism. This paper tries to fill this gap by examining different concepts and practices of Pure Land at a contemporary Taiwanese Chan Buddhist group, Dharma Drum Mountain (DDM). It is based on extensive fieldwork, publications of DDM, and the writings of the organizations founder, Ven. Shengyan. I argue that Pure Land’s concepts and practices and different interpretations thereof are where demarcations between elite and popular, modern and traditional Buddhism, occur. Clarifying the relationship between these approaches to Pure Land will help us to understand the modernization of Taiwanese/Chinese Buddhism.


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