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Religious Transformation in Modern Asia

A Transnational Movement

Series:

Edited by David Kim

This volume explores the religious transformation of each nation in modern Asia. When the Asian people, who were not only diverse in culture and history, but also active in performing local traditions and religions, experienced a socio-political change under the wave of Western colonialism, the religious climate was also altered from a transnational perspective. Part One explores the nationals of China (Taiwan), Hong Kong, Korea, and Japan, focusing on the manifestations of Japanese religion, Chinese foreign policy, the British educational system in Hong Kong in relation to Tibetan Buddhism, the Korean women of Catholicism, and the Scottish impact in late nineteenth century Korea. Part Two approaches South Asia through the topics of astrology, the works of a Gujarātī saint, and Himalayan Buddhism. The third part is focused on the conflicts between ‘indigenous religions and colonialism,’ ‘Buddhism and Christianity,’ ‘Islam and imperialism,’ and ‘Hinduism and Christianity’ in Southeast Asia.

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Joshua Esler

Abstract

This paper explores the way in which the Hong Kong Christian education system, inherited from the British, has influenced certain Chinese practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism in the territory to follow a ‘Protestantised’ form of Tibetan Buddhism. This paper shows how such practitioners often reject a pragmatic approach to Tibetan Buddhism followed by other Chinese practitioners in Hong Kong, the latter of whom may bring ‘this worldly’ concerns to various deities, bodhisattvas and lamas. Arguing from an ‘alternative’ position on postcolonial and subaltern studies, this paper seeks to show how these Protestantised practitioners, while drawing from a modernist Christian perspective on Tibetan Buddhism, also appropriate the ‘rationalising’ aspects of their Christian education as well as Tibetan Buddhist doctrinal arguments to undermine this perspective. By mimicking the discourse of their Christian education, appropriating it to ‘prove’ the truth of Tibetan Buddhism, and at times undermining the logic of this discourse itself, such practitioners creatively ‘talk back.’

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Christopher Hartney

Abstract

From 1926, Caodaism (Đạo Cao Đài) has flourished as the centre of new religious development in Vietnam. Its vast and complex syncretic theology continues to serve as a meeting ground between an East Asian tradition revivified (animism, Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, and ancestor worship) and a colonialist modernity localised (Catholicism, French Masonry, Theosophy, and Spiritualism). One of the significant paradigms through which this sacred re-narration of Vietnamese religious history can be conceptualised is through the great mural of the religion. Created to adorn the vestibule of every temple to God, the mural contains three historical figures that represent in essence the wider Caodaist religious and cultural project. In this chapter I examine in detail the symbolic relevance of these figures, Vietnamese poet and seer Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm [1491-1585], leader of the Chinese nationalist revolution Dr Sun Yat Sen [1866-1925], and French author Victor Hugo [1802-1885]. Separately they signify certain aspects of the modernist hope of those Vietnamese who came to worship them as saints of the new faith. Together in one mural, this chapter will reveal how these figures additionally symbolise a very specific global, modernist, and millenarian hope.

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Laurens de Rooij

Abstract

The Country of Malaysia is not only diverse in culture and during its history, but also contains a plurality of active religious traditions. This unique lifestyle has affected modernizing transformations during the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The influence of the minority religions on economic policy is a notable example. The socio-religious climate of Malaysia and its various ethnic groups have all contributed to economic and in turn political developments within the nation. This paper will explore the links of how the pluralist environment of the country has directly affected and continues to shape the social, economic, political discourse of the country. Subtle elements such as constitutional preference over one religion and the various economic policies show that the religious pluralism of Malaysia and globalising factors have had wide ranging influences on the country and its people. As such this paper will argue that in the development of Malaysia as a nation its many religious traditions have had a role to play. With arguably the minority religions being a more dominant factor that the majority Muslim community. These religions have interacted and influenced each other in developing Malaysian identity-politics and economic policy for its contemporary citizens.

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Daniel S.H. Ahn

Abstract

Singapore, a small and cosmopolitan city-state in Southeast Asia, is located among the dynamic economies of the Pacific Rim. It takes up the most special position in Southeast Asia, not only for its economic prosperity and strict governance but also its unique diversity of ethnic, cultural, linguistic and major religious heritages such as Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Chinese folk religions and Christianity. Among them Christianity is the fastest growing and the most significant religion in the multi-ethnic Asian nation as it socially made a remarkable impact on the establishment of modernity in Singapore. The profile of the new western religion in Singapore has changed dramatically since the founding of modern Singapore by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819. Then, how has the profile of Christianity been changed since the beginning of the nineteenth century? How did the western religion make social influence in Singapore particularly through the Christian mission educations? This section explores the history and development of Christianity: from the earliest mission effort of British and American missionaries, to the settlement of Christianity amidst a highly diversified population in Singapore today. This gives a special attention on how Christianity created social transformations of Singapore through the religious education.

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Laurens de Rooij

Abstract

The king of Thailand is a constitutional monarch and having reigned since 1946, is the world's longest-serving head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history. The king of Thailand is not only the Head of State and of the Armed Forces he is also the Upholder of the Buddhist religion. As a result he is seen as a unifying figure among its people in the political arena but increasingly it seems that a religious cult has developed around the figure of the king. He is a revered man and holds considerable power and influence among the people. Historically the figure of the Thai monarch has been important in keeping the country politically stable and out of a number of conflicts, with the preference of the Thai monarchy on peace and stability rather than conflict. This paper will examine how the country’s religious background set in Theravada Buddhism affects how the figure of the monarch is constructed and increasingly shows similarities with the role of a spiritual leader not only a political one. I will explore the question of how the Buddhist definition of Kingship affects the mythical narrative surrounding the monarch in Thailand. Setting the context from which I shall approach the issue of in what way the Thai people publicly revere their King in not only secular terms but increasingly religious terms. With modernizing transformations taking place in contemporary Thailand it is noticeable though that the country’s religious background is not lost in the shuffle. Theravada Buddhism is still increasingly important in the country’s social, economic and religious identity. But increasingly the figure of the Monarch takes an all-encompassing figure to exemplify the socio-religious values that Thai’s should aspire to.

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Lawrence C. Reardon

Abstract

During the first three decades of the People’s Republic, Communist Party elites pursued a revolutionary political, economic, and social paradigm, whose long-term goal was to develop a strong national security, ensure prosperity, and strengthen the Party’s comprehensive control of the state. Elites eliminated all foreign religious connections, which were replaced with Party-approved religious organizations. The adoption of the techno-economic paradigm in the 1980s created high economic growth rates as well as widespread corruption that threatened Party’s legitimacy. In response, the Communist Party adapted the revolutionary social paradigm and initiated a moral re-armament campaign. Elites used traditional religions and beliefs to strengthen moral standards and to supplement the state’s social welfare role. Elites however were less trusting of foreign religions, because of their complicated history, their continued foreign connections, and their non-sanctioned religious practices. As long as elites retain the revolutionary social paradigm and its emphasis on Party primacy, elites will continue to favour traditional religions and beliefs while discriminating against foreign religions and heterodox religious movements.

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David W. Kim

Abstract

The Korean peninsula of Northeast Asia was not well known to the powers and authorities of Western countries in the nineteenth century, for the royal family and their government of the Chosŏn dynasty (empire of Korea) had maintained an anti-western policy. The national policy did not last a long time; rather the western civilization of advanced science, technology, literature, and culture flowed into this oriental society, where there was a strong influence of Confucianism. Although Buddhist monks were in Korea, it was not the national religion. Instead, various activities of shamanism were performed in the life and culture of the Korean people. Christianity was a new religion to the local people in the nineteenth century. Then, how did the historical development of the Western religion take place in Korea? Was it part of the nineteenth century colonialism? Which country had the greatest effect on the early Korean Protestant movement? How did the Korean scripture (Sǒnggyo) emerge and affect the widespread use of Han’gŭl language in the society? This paper not only demonstrates the unique impact of a Scottish man over the early history of Korean Christianity and the development of Korean literature in 1870s-1890s, but also argues that the Korean diaspora in Manchuria under the principle of the ‘fulfilment theology’ performed as the vessel of John Ross for the modernization of the Hermit Kingdom.

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Kevin N. Cawley

Abstract

In East Asia, the religious and intellectual history of women has been less seriously dealt with compared to that of men. In Korea, the focus has been most often on elite men who reinforced Confucian patriarchal ideals. Unfortunately, the Confucian hierarchy excluded women from the intellectual world and reinforced inequality and double standards at all levels. This paper gives a voice to the marginalised women who converted to Catholicism during the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century, but who have, once more, been overlooked at the expense of elite men. It will firstly outline how Confucian constructions of “good” women subjugated and delimited their possibilities vis-à-vis men. By engaging with contemporary critical theory, it articulates how marginalised women, who took the lead in spreading the Catholic faith, risking, and often losing their lives in doing so, unsettled Confucian constructions as they endeavoured to realise a new value system based on the Christian teaching of equality: this was considered “dangerous knowledge,” and seen as a threat to the state. This study focuses on two women in particular: Colombe Kang Wansuk (1760-1801) and Luthgarde Yi Suni (1781?-1802), who show us various ways in which Catholicism was transforming the lives of women, dissolving rigid binary notions of gender, allowing everyone to participate in the intellectual and spiritual world through the use of Han’gŭl, as well as developing a new religious modus vivendi for women and men.

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Catharina Blomberg

Abstract

Japan has a long tradition of pilgrimages to Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples and other sacred sites. The writings of two Western observers, Olof Eriksson Willman (1624?-1673) and Carl Peter Thunberg (1743-1828), both of whom visited Japan as VOC employees, in 1651-1652 and 1775-1776 respectively, provide several examples of what they found remarkable about the pilgrims they encountered on the Tōkaidō and elsewhere. Their reactions to manifestations of an unfamiliar religion depended on their different backgrounds and the time in which they lived. Whereas Willman saw idolaters and devil worshippers, Thunberg regarded the Japanese faithful in a more tolerant light, influenced as he was by the Enlightenment in Europe. What strikes a contemporary observer about pilgrims today? The French sociologist Muriel Jolivet, who herself completed the pilgrimage to the eighty-eight temples in Shikoku associated with Kōbō Daishi, has provided insights into the mentality of today´s pilgrims, which does not appear to differ greatly from that of their Tokugawa predecessors.