Organizer: Philip Clart, University of British Columbia
Chair: Murray A. Rubinstein, CUNY, Baruch
Discussant: Charles B. Jones, Catholic University of America
Religion, like most aspects of social life, has been affected by the massive changes accompanying the post-war economic transformation of Taiwan. This is reflected in a shift of focus in the academic study of Taiwanese religions. Our image of religion in Taiwan, which before had been dominated by the classical anthropological field studies' portrayal of a stable "traditional" village religion, has been complicated, dynamized, and localized by a new emphasis on processes of religious change. New theoretical agendas on the part of the researchers have played a role in this shift of perspective, but the principal factor is to be found in the drastic acceleration and greater visibility of change in the religious sphere since the 1970s.
Of the four papers included in this panel, three address specific aspects of religious change in post-war Taiwan: André Laliberté investigates the evolving relations between the state and the Buddhist clergy in Taiwan; Philip Clart explores the popular morality book literature as a source of social critique and religious innovation; Christian Jochim discusses the role of Confucianism in modern Taiwan. Julian F. Pas provides an evaluation of the general issues involved in religious change in Taiwan that serves to link the three more narrowly focused contributions. Together these four papers throw light on important aspects of a large-scale, ongoing process of sociocultural transformation of great significance for Taiwan and for the study of the role of religion in modern East Asian societies.
Stability and Change in Taiwan's Religious Culture
Julian F. Pas, University of Saskatchewan
All societies go through changes, but in change, some aspects remain stable. What are the mechanics of change? One major factor seems to be crisis, another factor is contact with other cultures, or new discoveries.
All this applies to changes in the area of religion. In Taiwan, the process of change is ongoing, but perhaps too short to make final evaluations. Yet some tendencies can be observed even at this stage: (1) Social and economic changes in Taiwan since 1950: growing industrialization, great wealth, transformation of family life, changes in community living. All these have affected the religious beliefs and practices of many individuals; (2) Higher accessibility to education, especially middle schools and universities/colleges: this causes a challenge to traditional beliefs and practices of many individuals; (3) Transformations of religious life. This cannot easily be "measured," yet there are a number of external changes which can be observed and assessed. Foremost among them is "religious entrepreneurship," large scale religious construction projects (hospitals, schools, museums, huge temple complexes), made possible by the greater economic wealth and the generosity of the believers; (4) New religious organizations make efforts to centralize and unify new visions of religious reality. Some groups tend to pressure their members in their religious outlook, and appear like cult movements.
Is it possible to make any predictions about the future of Taiwan religion?
Religious Change in Taiwan: The Confucian Tradition
Christian Jochim, San Jose State University
The purported role of Confucianism in modernization, both negative and positive, has received much attention. Conversely, the modernization of the Confucian Tradition-how it has changed within the context of those broader cultural transformations called "modernity"-has been less extensively investigated.
Its recent situation in Taiwan is worthy of study for several reasons: government officials in Taiwan have made efforts to revive the Confucian tradition; leading Confucian intellectuals who left the People's Republic of China were active there and left many students behind; Taiwan's economic success led key social scientists there to praise the tradition for its role in economic development; and Taiwan's lively religious situation left room for a variety of ways to promote Confucianism. Moreover, the overall religious and cultural situation in post World War Taiwan has been relatively well studied by both foreign and local scholars.
In this paper, we will approach the changing nature of Confucianism in Taiwan by answering, in order, the following three questions: (1) What has been the general nature of cultural and, especially, religious change in Taiwan during recent decades? (2) Who are the relevant "interpreters" of the Confucian Tradition there in various realms of discourse: governmental, intellectual, sectarian and popular religious realms? (3) In what way do the observable changes in the Confucian Tradition parallel changes in other major traditions (Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, etc.) who face the challenges of modernity?
Morality Books as Social Commentary and Critique
Philip Clart, University of British Columbia
Morality books (shanshu) are a widespread form of popular religious literature in modern Taiwanese society. After a brief description of the shanshu genre and its religious context, the paper focuses on one aspect of morality books, namely their function as a medium for commenting on significant changes in the social life of contemporary Taiwan. Using a body of texts collected during my fieldwork in Taiwan in 1993-94, I isolate the principal sociocultural transformations singled out by morality books, and analyze the criteria employed by the authors in their evaluation. Morality books are commonly believed to be bastions of backward-looking cultural conservatism; against this view, my paper argues that, while the conservative nature of morality books cannot be denied, shanshu have a very real adaptive potential. Rather than simply measuring (and condemning) modern society by the yardstick of the great traditions of Imperial China, many morality books aim to salvage the core concepts of traditional morality and redefine them for the modern context. Their conservatism is flexible; it does not cling to the outer forms of tradition, but tries to reshape its core in such a manner that it remains relevant within modern Taiwanese society. In this positive function, morality books play an important role in the "modernization" of traditional Chinese religions. This point is illustrated by an examination of morality book authors' thorough reinterpretation of traditional beliefs concerning female impurity and ritual pollution in the face of the extensive weakening of inter-gender boundaries.
The KMT and the Sangha in Taiwan: From Corporatist Regulation to Pluralism
André Laliberté, University of British Columbia
Until the lifting of martial law in 1987, the highly regulated relationship between the Kuomintang and interest groups in Taiwan was understood within the framework of corporatist theory. Since 1987, however, the concept of civil society has been marshalled to describe the new relationship developing between the democratizing state and interest groups. After defining the key concepts of corporatism and civil society, and reviewing some of the debates they generate in political science, this paper will present an overview of the relationship between the Kuomintang and three major Buddhist associations to assess this situation. This examination will reveal that each institution represents a different moment in the transition from an authoritarian corporatist regime towards a pluralist democracy. The Buddhist Association of the Republic of China was granted early on by the KMT a corporatist monopoly of representation for the sangha. But as Taiwanese society becomes more pluralist, it is seeing its influence diminish. The Fokuangshan Association, which is a result of religious entrepreneurship, departs from the model of a corporatist relationship. However, this organization does not strengthen civil society either due to the ambiguous relationships nurtured between its leaders and some politicians. The Tzu-Chi Buddhist Compassion Society, on the other hand, represents the kind of association that consolidates civil society: it is concerned with public welfare more than with private salvation, remains politically independent, and embraces pluralism in its efforts to reach out to non-believers.