Chinese Religions Workshop: Margins as Centers and Centers as Margins


Saturday, February 2, 2013 (All day)

Margins as Centers and Centers as Margins
Robert Weller, Boston University
Schedule of Speakers:
9:00 am-10:15 am  Stephan Feuchtwang, London School of Economics
10:15 am- 11:30 am  Judy Farquhar, University of Chicago
11:45 am-1:00 pm Wei-ping Lin, National Taiwan University
2:00 pm-3:15 pm  James Robson, Harvard University
3:30 pm-4:45 pm  Fang-long Shih, Professor of Anthropology, London School of Economics

9:00 am-10:15 am
Border Regions and Empty Spaces: Centers as Margins and Margins as Centers in China
Stephan Feuchtwang,
London School of Economics
True to the anthropological vision, Stephan Feuchtwang proposes a multi-perspective view of that arch example of centering: the civilization, empire, and nation now called China. He will discuss how we may see the imperial center from marginal centers and from the centers of those who are cast below by those at the authoritative top of the civilizational hierarchy. He will show how, from the top down, the spaces at borders or centers contain marginal or dirty presences, or if fixed, then errant presences, while from the side and the bottom, the top is imagined and performed as a center, cosmological, civilizational, and political, authenticating themselves. He will discuss the parallels between urban planning and the policing of frontiers as visions of clean spaces. In the opposite direction, they are exploited as opportunities to create wealth and new centers, temples, and ancestral halls.
      Stephan Feuchtwang is emeritus professor in the Department of Anthropology at the London School of Economics. His main area of research has been China. But recently he extended it to the comparative study of the transmission of great events of state violence in China, Taiwan, and Germany. This research was published in After the Event: The Transmission of Grievous Loss in Germany, China and Taiwan (2011). Professor Feuchtwang’s other recent publications include The Anthropology of Religion, Charisma and Ghosts: Chinese Lessons for Adequate Theory (2010); Making Place: State Projects, Globalisation and Local Responses in China, contributor and editor (2004); and Grassroots Charisma: Four Local Leaders in China, with Wang Mingming (2001).

10:15 am- 11:30 am
Who Learns from Whom? Lively Networks in Ethnic Medicine and Practice
Judy Farquhar,
University of Chicago
Judy Farquhar’s presentation dwells on certain observations from field research in Hubei Province in order to explore the complex mobilities and exchanges between metropolitan and "peripheral" places. She will trace networks of activity relating to the practice and control of folk and ethnic medicine, arguing that a full understanding of the historical flows of things (like drugs and people) and knowledge through China's "remote" rural areas makes it more difficult to identify either centers or peripheries, now or in the past.
      Judith Farquhar is Max Palevsky Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. Her research on contemporary China spans three decades, focusing on theories and practices of modern traditional Chinese medicine; everyday life and embodiment; popular culture and media; post-Mao and post-socialist micropolitics; and, most recently, national movements to systematize the traditional medicine practices of China’s ethnic minorities. She is the author of Knowing Practice: The Clinical Encounter of Chinese Medicine (1994); Appetites: Food and Sex in Post-Socialist China (2004); and Ten Thousand Things: Nurturing Life in Contemporary Beijing (2012).

11:45 am-1:00 pm
“Goddess Mazu Was Buried in the Mazu Islands”: Imagining the Future of the Demilitarized Islands between China and Taiwan
Wei-ping Lin,
National Taiwan University
The Mazu Islands, located in the Taiwan Strait between China and Taiwan, was a battlefield for 40 years; it was not until 1992 that military control was abolished. After de-militarization, although the Mazu people have a new opportunity to open up to the world, they also face the threat of being forgotten and utterly marginalized in the evolving framework of China-Taiwan relations. Since 2000, the county government, Mazu temple, and local elites have developed previously vague legends into a new myth, “Goddess Mazu was buried in the Mazu Islands.” This myth has initiated and attracted many new religious interactions with China and Taiwan. Wei-ping Lin discusses how the religious innovations provide a way for the Mazu people, amidst their rapidly changing conditions, to imagine their future, reconfigure political, economic, and religious space, and forge new connections.
     Wei-ping Lin obtained her PhD in anthropology from Cambridge University and is associate professor of anthropology at National Taiwan University. She was affiliated with the Harvard-Yenching Institute and Harvard University in 2005-06, and she is currently a Fairbank visiting scholar. Her research concerns Chinese popular religion including topics related to material culture, spirit mediums, and religious transformation. She aims to bring all these issues together in a book that will analyze popular religion from the Chinese cultural concepts of “person” and “place.”

2:00 pm-3:15 pm
Manuscripts from the Margin: Assessing Religion in the Central Hunan (湘中) Region
James Robson,
Harvard University
For a variety of historical reasons, much of the scholarly focus on what has come to be called the Chinese frontier has been—at least since the Qing dynasty—on the northern and western borders of China and discussed in terms of confrontation and unruliness (usually by ethnic minorities) coupled with resistance. Scholars have also depicted the frontier as a marginal area, a place on the fringe of civilization that is occupied by the “excluded, the silenced, and the subjugated.” Other scholars have focused instead on economic issues such as expanding rice markets or inter-regional trade. What James Robson finds lacking in much of the work that has been produced thus far are detailed studies of the place of religion in thinking about these issues. His talk will focus on the Hunan region, which has heretofore received little study in terms of the guiding questions about the frontier, and the role of religion in the historical development and transformation of that region.
     James Robson is professor of East Asian religions in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. He specializes in the history of Chinese Buddhism and Daoism. He is the author of the Power of Place: The Religious Landscape of the Southern Sacred Peak [Nanyue 南嶽] in Medieval China (2009), and he has published on topics ranging from sacred geography and local religious history to talismans and the historical development of Chan/Zen Buddhism. Professor Robson is engaged in a long-term collaborative research project with the École Française d’Extrême-Orient studying local religious statuary from Hunan Province, and he is the editor of the forthcoming Norton Anthology of World Religions: Daoism. Currently, he is a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. He received his PhD from Stanford University.

3:30 pm-4:45 pm
The Changing Locations of Sam-Giap Maiden Temple in Taiwan
Fang-long Shih,
Professor of Anthropology, London School of Economics
Sam-giap maiden temple 三峽姑娘廟, as a place for unwanted maiden spirits, tinged with shame, has always been a marginalized location. However, by dissolving the vertical relations of patrilineal centres and replacing them with the horizontal relations of a maiden community, the temple has generated a new space. Further with Sam-giap’s transformation into a university city, this space for maiden spirits has been commercialized, and the temple has now also become a space where wives come to ask the goddess to monitor their adulterous husbands. Marital infidelity, as a breach of the cycle of nourishment conventionally constitutive of the family, marginalizes married women, and the needs of these women now also falls under the watchful eye of the maiden goddess. This shift in the activities and powers of the maiden goddess at Sam-giap maiden temple indicates a shift both in the locations of familial margins and familial centres.
     Dr Fang-Long Shih is Research Fellow in the LSE Asia Research Centre and Co-Director of the LSE Taiwan Research Programme. Her PhD was jointly supervised by LSE Anthropology and SOAS Study of Religion. Her publications include a Gazateer of Local Religion in I-Lan County (2003), and articles on the category ‘religion’ in anthropological studies of Taiwan (2006), the issues relating to ‘maiden death’ (2007, 2010), ‘Re-writing Religion in Taiwan’ (2009), and the place of goddess Mazu in anti-nuclear power activism (2012). She contributed a chapter on ‘Women, Religions, and Feminisms’ for the New Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Religion (2010), and she is currently working on a chapter on ‘Gender, Sexuality and the Family’ for the Routledge Handbook of Religions in Asia.

 Location: CGIS South, Room S250, 1730 Cambridge Street, Harvard University