Across the Boundaries of Belief: Contemporary Issues in the Anthropology of Religion

By Morton Klass; Maxine Weisgrau | Go to book overview

order (or a state-sponsored ideology) into religious performance; we must also see how that performance, and the experiences that go into it, influence interpretation. Interpretations of the Universal Salvation in Taiwan changed rapidly because the symbolic code itself merely set broad limits. Just as important were the political and economic experiences of the people who took part in the festival. The possibility of constant reinterpretation, free from major institutional constraints, prevented the state from imposing its own version of ghosts, and guaranteed the existence of alternatives to state ideological control.


Notes
1.
I have romanized place names and Mandarin terms in Pinyin, and Hokkien terms following Bodman ( 1955).
2.
Sugar became another crucial export from Taiwan during this period. I do not consider it here because it was grown primarily in the southern part of the island.
3.
I have no unambiguous data that directly link these people to the ghost festival. Given the thinness of the sources from this period, it is probably impossible to go beyond a plausible hypothesis for this section of the argument. Nevertheless, evidence for the marginality of ghosts and for the state's opposition to popular worship of such marginality seems clear.
4.
I distinguish "ideology" from most popular interpretation here only to indicate a difference in how far each has been self-consciously codified into a general system. I do not mean to imply (as some other uses of the term might suggest), that only formalized ideologies have political implications. For example, I agree with Feuchtwang ( 1975:73) that both popular interpretations and state ideology (both "ideologies" in his terms, but not mine) represent "in various ways, from various points of view, the general system of dominance and of defiance towards it."
5.
Gates ( 1982) has suggested that the resurgence of popular religion has been funded primarily by a traditional middle class--largely Taiwanese (as opposed to mainlander), and largely cut off from the government and big business sectors that provide most opportunities for social mobility. She argues that these people spend money on religion as a way of gaining status and investing in the local community, independent of (and possibly in opposition to) government and big business. This argument does not specifically address the ghost cult, but my data are nevertheless consistent with Gates's interpretation.
6.
I will concentrate here only on government attempts to manipulate ghosts, largely ignoring attempts to repress the festival entirely (which I am addressing elsewhere). All three states in Taiwan repressed the Universal Salvation for brief periods, but the governments always backed off from the repression after a few years. The current government is ambivalent about most popular religion, not actively repressing most of it (after the first few years of the regime), but sometimes passively discouraging it.
7.
Abercrombie and Turner ( 1978) have suggested that so-called dominant ideologies (like the state cult) rarely simply mystify the masses, but instead affect primarily the elite.
8.
The state does not usually show any special support for Buddhism. In this case, however, it is making opportunistic use of the Buddhist origins of the festival in order to promote their own political goals.
9.
By 1965, this had grown to 2500 pigs, fully double the average at the time ( XSB, 10 August 1965:5).

-288-

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