Final Examination of
For the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
2:15 p.m., Caldwell Room 125
Han Christian Conversion in Taiwan: a Study of Presbyterian Converts from Traditional Chinese Religions
Director: Rev. Raymond Studzinski, OSB, Ph.D.
This study investigates the process by which Taiwanese Han people converted from traditional Chinese religious backgrounds to Presbyterianism. These converts are called First Generation Christians. Based on the connection between somatic experiences and religious beliefs inherited from Han religions and culture, Taiwanese Han people tend to turn to Christianity either due to the power of ling, a Chinese understanding of religious efficacy, or due to their specific expressions such as gan-dong. Gan-dong means “to be emotionally touched” which is an expression used to specify how a First Generation Christian emotionally connects with the Christian God.
However, the influential ling experiences frequently occurring among First Generation Christians are not regarded important among Presbyterian mainstream academics. Following Western theological interpretation, Presbyterian mainstream academics stress intellectual understandings of Christianity and do not address in culturally emotional understandings of God, such as a reliance on supernatural experiences and feelings of being saved by evil spirits. The inconsistency between the emphasis on intellectual understandings and local emotional understandings gives rise to a cultural interpretation at the grass root level. Local Presbyterian pastors participate in testifying the importance of local somatic experiences.
Based on the results revealed, Substitute, Competition and Assimilation types were developed to clarify how converts adjust when transitioning from traditional Chinese religions to Christianity. Besides these three types, two further categories, ling and non- ling subtypes, were developed to represent the effects of ling for conversion decisions. When almost half of the interviewees report that their conversion happened within a ling context, the other half of converts did not make their decision due to efficacious results.
Conversions that were influenced by ling, are illustrations of William James’ “sick souls” type, presenting dramatic elements. In contrast, conversions that were not influenced by ling, tended to occur in individuals who belong to “healthy-mindedness,” presenting fewer or no dramatic elements. Consequently, interviewees are categorized into a total of six types. These six types propose a new model for the conversion process under the influence of traditional Chinese religions and culture.