AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 597

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Session 597: Religion

Immoral Hinduism and Incredible India: Missionary Representations of India in the 19th Century
Philippe Bornet, University of Lausanne, Switzerland

The paper deals with missionary wood engravings of India which were collected in the Bildertafeln zur Länder- und Volker-Kunde (1883) edited by a German Pietist publishing house (the “Calwer Verlagsverein”) under the leadership of Hermann Gundert, himself a former missionary in South India. While representing virtually all non-European (and non-Christian) parts of the world, the book grants a special position to India. India is indeed represented as epitomizing the notion of idolatry, which is everywhere to be observed: in ceremonies for the "sanguinary Kali", in festivals at the Jagannath temple in Puri, or, less spectacularly, in different customs of the everyday life. At the same time, many pictures witness a genuine “curiosity” for topics considered as “exotic” and expect a feeling of amazement from the viewer, such as Himalayan sceneries or majestic architectural achievements. Tracing the history of some of the pictures, we will consider them as part of a complex system of image manufacturing. Making use of a rich iconography (Powerpoint), we will examine the different strategies, possibilities and constraints involved in the process of representation, as well as the asymmetrical roles of its actors (missionary sponsors, missionary representatives, engravers, draughtsmen / photographs, people represented). The paper will finally raise more general questions for a discussion, such as the relation between media and content (for example, engravings based on drawings or photographs), the particularity of India among missionary representations of Asian cultures, or the European specificity (or not) of a visual practice in which the cultural and/or religious practices of others are represented.

Justice Deferred: Religious Narratives and Populist Critique in Northern Song China
Mihwa Choi, San Diego State University, USA

In Northern Song China, narratives describing the underworld, its tribunal, and encounters with ghosts flourished. These stories address issues of economic, moral and social injustice on a cosmic scale, blurring the distinction between the real and the imaginary, between world of the living and that of the dead. They recount acts of renowned scholar-officials of the time both during and after their lifetimes, or feature vengeful ghosts as agents of justice. Several accounts, for example, record the miserable fate of Wang Anshi, Grand Councilor, portraying his imprisonment in hell as retribution for his discussion of instituting harsh corporeal punishment. Many other narratives of this kind also reveal dramatic inversions of power in the world-beyond between the noble and lowly, the rich and poor, or the accuser and accused of the social world. The theme of justice deferred to the world-beyond seems have grown out of the populace’s frustration over the prevailing social and political order and their powerlessness to alter it. Confucian scholar-officials believed that uncontrolled circulation of such stories would undermine the established authority and moral order of the state. In response, they produced anecdotes about upright Confucians who chastised and exorcized harmful ghosts. Mainstream Confucians also refuted the notion of the existence of heaven and hell as the dwelling places of the dead, and in particular as the domain of deferred justice. They reconfirmed the tradition’s focus on life in this-world, and condemned the emerging use of supernatural narratives to critique and challenge the current social order.

Millenarianism and East Asian New Religious Movements: a Lowest Common Denominator?
Lukas Pokorny, University of Aberdeen, Austria

The lecture will focus on a comparison of the millenarian dimension of selected East Asian new religious movements (NRM). The term “millenarianism” derives from the Latin word for “thousand”, „mille “ and equates functionally with the expression „chiliasm”, which derives from the Greek word for „thousand”, „ χίλιοι”. From a notion that was initially used in Christian theology in reference to a Godly kingdom on earth, it changed into a concept comprising all beliefs of an imminent new world order or “golden age” based on highest moral virtues and the utmost spiritual or dianoetic cultivation (see e.g. Cohn, Norman, 1957. The Pursuit of the Millennium). The paper will highlight the major millenarian notions of several East Asian NRMs from a comparative perspective, and through an in-depth reading of their main scriptures. On the one hand, the paper will point out the crucial role of millenarian beliefs within the doctrinal setting of East Asian NRMs. On the other hand, it emphasizes the conceptual similarities regarding the view of an imminent change of the current state of world order.

A Daoist Fashion of Spiritual Pursuit: The Lifestyle of Bai Yuchan
Li Wang, Brown University, USA

Bai Yuchan (1194-1229?) was an influential religious figure in the Southern Song times. As a distinguished Daoist master who developed the theory, method and practice of inner alchemy and self-cultivation, Bai played an important role in the dynamics of religious diversity in the social-cultural-intellectual milieu in Chinese history. His contribution to the legacy in many facets reflected the ways in which he expressed his ultimate concern--pursuing personal transcendence, eternal nature-life, and universal salvation. Especially, Bai promoted the Daoist tradition not only through his writing and teaching but also through his symbolic activities and ways of life, which need to be given serious attention. Based on a comprehensive study of Bai Yuan’s inner alchemical thought and practice, this article aims to examine in particular Bai’s lifestyle, which is closely linked to his innermost world and ultimate concern. I will first explain that Bai held a carefree and unrestrained attitude toward life. I will then illustrate that Bai remained easy and genuine interests in creative life, which revealed his exceptional literary and artistic talents. Bai showed brilliance in various arts, including poetry writing, painting, calligraphy, playing musical instrument, and swordsmanship. Finally, I will demonstrate how Bai made great efforts to promote Daoist doctrines and to enhance public relations while living in a secluded mountain area as a recluse master. The conclusion will be drawn from the discussion that Bai Yuchan’s symbolic activities and lifestyle of spiritual pursuit have played an inspired part in the Daoist heritage in Chinese history.

Gender Performance in a Taiwanese Mazu Cult
Mei-huan Lu, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

The gendered roles in the Taiwanese folk religion usually present the patrilineal ideology. While the male monopolizes the significant roles in the festive ceremony, many taboos are imposed on to the female who is culturally defined as impure that might pollutes the supernatural world. However, the cult dedicated to the goddess Mazu provides women with possibilities to perform out their selfness in the everyday life that maintains the patrilineal ideology. This article attempts to analyze several women’s stories from a Taiwanese northwestern village, in which the temple dedicated to the goddess Mazu, regarded as the main patron, is surrounded by five other temples dedicated to the male gods categorized as Wangye and Taizi in the folk religion. According to the local tradition, the female can play an important role in the Mazu pilgrimage journey, such as carrying the goddess’s palanquin and beating the gong beside it, albeit the male still conduct more ritual tasks than the female in the present. I was deeply impressed by the fact that several village unmarried daughters, aged over 60, live on their own work and show the independence even under the pressure coming from their families and relatives. These females adopt and raise children by their own. Further, some women conduct the work that are highly labored and supposed to be the male job. The reason for the different gender performance is attributed to the unmarried goddess Mazu. Thus, the Mazu cult reinforces the female’s selfness and their selections of the ways of life.