The reformative visions of mediumship in contemporary Taiwan

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Title: The reformative visions of mediumship in contemporary Taiwan
Author: Tsai, Yi-Jia
Advisor: Wyschogrod, Edith; Faubion, James D.
Degree: Doctor of Philosophy thesis
Abstract: This thesis explores how mediums in contemporary Taiwan engage themselves in the complicated project of modernity. In 1989---around the period when the government lifted martial law---a group of mediums founded their own association. It represents a conscious self-recognition of a time-honored religious professional who strives to come to terms with modern frame of professionalization. It is also a spiritual endeavor that tries to respond to contemporary Taiwanese political and moral struggle by appealing to the traditional Chinese cultural resources and the modern educational design. This thesis investigates the theorizations of the Association and explores how its reformative vision combines the ancient Chinese mediumship with modern nationalist discourse and modern Chinese intellectuals' concern for "saving China." The intertwining of religious mission and nationalist concern is further explored by the discussion of the Association's religious practices and activities, including the Moral Maintenance Movement it promoted, the mediums' meeting for the visiting of spirits, the ritual of national protection and spiritual appeasement, and their pilgrimage to the Mainland. This thesis draws on the ideas of de Certeau about the 'writing back the outlawed voice' and argues that the Association writes itself into the official discourse kaleidoscopically, creating a new topography by rearranging available fragments. It neither reiterates the dominant discourse, nor invents a new version; its practice of historical writing constitutes an exercise of reflexive thinking within the structure of normative codes and power relations. The Association's concern for the further education and cultivation of mediums is investigated through their educational activities. Through the care of one's body and spirit, the mediums make efforts to constitute themselves into ethical beings who are able to change a degraded society. The cooperation of medium and spirit is regarded as a co-constituted ethical project. It is explored by Foucault's scheme of the four parameters of the ethical fields. The other reformative visions of mediumship are further investigated through a college student's accounts of mediumistic experiences and a medium writer's works. In sum, these reformative visions of mediumship have added a significant reflective power both to conventional mediumship and to the various trends of modernity.
Citation: Tsai, Yi-Jia. (2003) "The reformative visions of mediumship in contemporary Taiwan." Doctoral Thesis, Rice University.
Date: 2003

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