Transnational goddess on the move: Meiguo Mazu's celestial inspection tour and pilgrimage as Chinese American culture work and vernacular Chinese religion

Submitted by James Miller on Mon, 08/16/2010 - 10:31
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TitleTransnational goddess on the move: Meiguo Mazu's celestial inspection tour and pilgrimage as Chinese American culture work and vernacular Chinese religion
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsLee, J. H. X.
Date Published2009
ISBN Number1109367546, 9781109367546
KeywordsCultural anthropology, Ethnic studies, Religion

What is the interplay among religious practice, immigration, relocation; and resettlement? How does Chinese religiosity change or remain the same in a transnational Taiwanese American community? What is the role of religion in the formation of a community in the diaspora? How have changing immigration policies and forces of globalization coalesced to transform a local goddess cult into a transnational cult? What happens to rituals and religious experiences when religion, technology, and sensory experiences combine in new ways? These are the questions asked in this investigation of a local goddess cult, popular among recent Taiwanese American immigrants in San Francisco, who is venerated as a Sea Goddess and Empress of Heaven, but addressed as Mazu (Granny) by Taiwanese and Taiwanese American devotees. At her San Francisco Chinatown temple, devotees call her "Meiguo Mazu" ("American Mazu"). In this dissertation, I document Ma-tsu Temple U.S.A. community's temporal accommodation and ritual adaptations through the appropriation of the Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco to perform Meiguo Mazu's "inspection tour" ritual ( raojing ). I discuss developments in trans-Pacific pilgrimage rituals linking Beigang to San Francisco. Both rituals are analyzed as forms of Chinese American culture work, which is the deliberate production of ethnic, national, cultural and religious identities and communities. Chinese American culture work is the explicit and implicit attempt to maintain and adjust to changing patterns of being Chinese in America. It is a concerted effort to maintain and sustain patterns of Chinese life in Chinese America. It also reveals both consensus and contradictions in the interaction between religion and the politics of identity formation in transnational space. This is an ethnographic study of a community and a goddess on the move in transnational space, and presents new paradigms for understanding Chinese and Chinese American religiosities through the lenses of Chinese American culture work and vernacular Chinese religion. The vernacular Chinese religious approach addresses shortcomings inherent in current paradigms of Chinese popular religion, sacred space and pilgrimage, and moves beyond binary paradigms that are inherently dependent upon the sacred versus profane dichotomy.

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