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Taiwan Research Programme
London School of Economics and Political Science
Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE


Professor Stephan Feuchtwang

Dr Fang-Long Shih

Religion, Culture, and Politics in Taiwan

With Dr Fang-Long Shih (Taiwan Culture Research Programme, LSE)

Organizers:  LSE Forum on Religion SeminarSeminars on Religion and Society

Date: Wednesday 7 May 2008, 5:30pm-7pm

Venue: Room S300, St Clement's Building, London School of Economics (LSE)

Chair: Professor Eileen Barker (LSE Forum on Religion)


Reviewing literature on the relationship between religion and politics in Taiwan, we discover that there are many more texts which examine the participation of religious organizations in politics than works which discuss the response of governments and political parties to religions. In this paper, I will explore how the government of Taiwan has addressed religion, specifically relating to three areas of significance: the transition to democracy, capitalist economic development, and responses to globalization. In the first section, I will show how there has been a continuity in governmental approaches to religious issues from the martial law period until today's democratic period, by comparing existing legislation with new laws that have been recently proposed. In the second section, I will examine the KMT government's campaign from the 1950s to 1980s for the reform of religious rituals and festivals, which resulted in a decline in religious activities as a capitalist economy developed. Finally, I will show how policies on tourism adopted by the DPP administration between 2000 and 2008 have transformed religious rituals into a vehicle for tourism, seeking, in response to the emerging global context, to create a national identity founded in a cultural uniqueness. In conclusion, I will argue that governmental attitudes to religious affairs can be characterized in terms of a move from regulation and rationalization to production.

About the speaker

Fang-Long Shih is a specialist in the study of religion, gender, society, and politics, within the context of Taiwan and Chinese-speaking diaspora communities. Her work has considered religion in relation to areas such as family, kin, gender, ethnicity, the state, modernity, and globalisation (see 'The Formation and Function of the Category 'Religion', 2006). In the early 1990s Dr Shih conducted a thorough survey and in-depth analysis of local religion and its development in I-Lan County, Taiwan. Dr Shih has since the mid-1990s worked on the issue of "maiden death", which refers to women who die before they marry and who therefore become homeless ghosts. In this work she reads maiden death practices as texts reflecting and negotiating both traditional social relations and wider processes of economic and political change that have occurred during the modernization of Taiwan (see 'Generation of a New Space', 2007). Dr Shih has also published on religion and the state in Taiwan, focusing in particular on state-led guidelines in the areas of ritual and tourism that have direct and indirect impact upon popular religious practices (see 'Government Policy on Religion in Taiwan', 2006), and she is currently researching the environmental significance of Chinese cosmology in feng shui.