RUDOLPH, Michael (Heidelberg University, Germany)

RUDOLPH, Michael (Heidelberg University, Germany)
Rituals as Authenticating Practices: Contemporary Rituals of Taiwan’s
Reflecting on what they call the “modern crisis of authority” in many Asian
states, the editors of the volume Asian Visions of Authority: Religion and the
Modern States of East and Southeast Asia (Keyes, Kendall, Hardacre 1994)
make the following remark: “The process of creating modern nation states…
entails two rather contradictory stances towards religion: While the modernizing
stance leads to a de-emphasis of ritual practices, the nation-building one leads
to the promotion of selected practices and even the invention of new rites.” The
contradiction described here and its consequences can currently be very well
observed in China’s “renegade province” Taiwan. Quite differently from the
argument of the study mentioned above, however, it is not the repression of
indigenous religious traditions which seems to be problematic in this case, but
the overemphasis of difference and cultural traditions in multiculturalism. While
the Taiwanese government on one hand side pushes technical, social and
political modernization (like for instance the consolidation of the island’s young
liberal democracy), it encourages on the other hand the development of a
multicultural national identity that is independent from China and free from the
quasi-colonial pressures of the recent past. The resulting state-supported
traditionalism adapted by various political and societal elites, however, is not
suitable for all ethnic groups on the island equally and collides with the religious
identity developed by indigenous people in recent times. Further, it is often
instrumentalized by members of political parties and other interest groups in a
way that jeopardizes original democratic ideals and challenges the authority of
the state. I try to elucidate the dilemma described here by focussing on the
contemporary rituals of Taiwan’s Austronesians.