The Divine Eye and the Diaspora

The Divine Eye and the Diaspora: Vietnamese Syncretism Becomes Transpacific Caodaism

Janet Alison Hoskins
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x1jg0
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  • Book Info
    The Divine Eye and the Diaspora
    Book Description:

    Caodaism is a new religion born in Vietnam during the struggles of decolonization, shattered and spatially dispersed by cold war conflicts, now trying to reshape the goals of its four million followers. Colorful and strikingly syncretistic, it incorporates elements of Chinese, Buddhist, and Western religions as well as more recent outstanding world figures like Victor Hugo, Jeanne d'Arc, Vladimir Lenin, and (in the United States) Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism.

    The book looks at the connections between "the age of revelations" (1925-1934) in French Indochina and the "age of diaspora" (1975-present) when many Caodai leaders and followers went into exile. Structured in paired biographies to trace relations between masters and disciples, now separated by oceans, it focuses on five members of the founding generation and their followers or descendants in California, showing the continuing obligation to honor those who forged the initial vision to "bring the gods of the East and West together." The syncretism of the colonial period has been transformed by the experience of exile into a diasporic formation, at the same time that Caodaism in Vietnam has emerged from a period of severe restrictions to return to the public arena. Caodaism forces us to reconsider how anthropologists study religious mixtures in postcolonial settings, since its dynamics challenge the unconscious Eurocentrism of our notions of how religions are bounded and conceptualized.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-5479-9
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. CHRONOLOGY
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: “OUTRAGEOUS SYNCRETISM”?
    (pp. 1-28)

    It is almost noon in Tây Ninh, a steamy provincial capital sixty-five miles southwest of Hô Chí Minh City. Dozens of tour buses pull up into a parking lot across the street from the high Gothic towers of the Great Temple of Caodaism (Tòa Thánh Tây Ninh), which loom with the outline of a cathedral above a complex of shops and restaurants. Hundreds of tourists of all nationalities—Europeans, Japanese, Americans, Australians, and increasing numbers of visitors from mainland China, Singapore, and Taiwan—pour out of the buses and stream toward the Temple, where dozens of Caodai dignitaries have put...

  6. CHAPTER 1 CONVERSATIONS WITH DIVINITIES: SÉANCE AND THE FIRST DISCIPLES
    (pp. 29-66)

    A portrait of Ngô Vãn Chiêu, the first disciple of Cao Ðài, hung below the large glowing left eye on the altar in the small upstairs bedroom devoted to spirit medium séances. Slipping out of my shoes and bowing respectfully in front of the altar, I caught his calm, meditative gaze through the swirls of incense that waft ed upward. An oil lamp on the altar had burned a circle of ash onto the ceiling, visually suggesting the heavenly aspirations of the séance participants, who hoped to make contact with immortal spirits. Dressed in white tunics, the men tucked flowers...

  7. CHAPTER 2 A SPIRIT MEDIUM AS NATIONALIST LEADER: CHARISMA AND ANTICOLONIALISM
    (pp. 67-96)

    On November 1, 2006, an excited crowd of almost 100,000 people gathered in Tây Ninh in front of the huge central gate to their sacred city, which had not been opened for half a century. The large octagonal tomb on the way to the Great Temple had been built for Phạm Công Tãc, Caodaism’s most famous and controversial twentieth-century leader, and planned as his final resting place, but it had sat empty for decades. Now, news had come that the gate would be opened on this day to receive a funeral procession coming from Cambodia, bearing his remains in a...

  8. CHAPTER 3 THE SPIRITUAL SONS OF VICTOR HUGO: FROM SÉANCE TO BATTLEFIELD
    (pp. 97-125)

    In his pleasant but modest home in a trailer park off Bolsa Avenue in “Little Saigon” (Orange County, California), Trăn Quang Cầnh has a photograph of his father, Trần Quang Vinh, dressed in long traditional robes and seated, rather imperiously, in a chair. It was taken at a formal reception during the time when his father served as the Minister of Defense for the Saigon government (1947–1952). Trần Quang Vinh was anointed as the spiritual son of Victor Hugo in an early séance, and went on to become the founder of the Caodai Army, an important military leader under...

  9. CHAPTER 4 THE FALL OF SAIGON AND THE RISE OF THE DIASPORA
    (pp. 126-153)

    Ðō Van Lý told me this story as we sat in his living room in Chatsworth,¹ a suburb north of Los Angeles. At ninety-four, he was a slender man with delicate features and longish white hair that made him look like a combination of an ostrich and a sage. Still a dramatic, even intimidating speaker, his dark eyes moved quickly as he spoke, his gestures retaining a slightly Gallic infl ection, but his spoken English full of charming colloquialisms: “the real McCoy Caodai,” “Viet nam ese liberation from the grass roots,” “bless your heart,” “the cream of the crop.” The...

  10. CHAPTER 5 A “CAODAIST IN BLACK” RETURNS TO LIVE IN VIETNAM
    (pp. 154-187)

    A dignified white-haired man in his sixties, dressed in long black robes, walks across the arrival lounge of the Saigon airport with a batch of lotus flowers, coming to meet me as I stumble out from my seventeen-hour flight across the Pacific. Behind him, half a dozen female disciples of “The Way of Enlightened Reason” (Minh Lý Ðạo) wait in somber robes, beside a chartered minibus. Although this group may appear out of place in this modern, crowded airport, their leader, Lâm Lý Hùng, is a transnational figure now, one of an increasingly large number of religious figures who cross...

  11. CHAPTER 6 THE DIVINE EYE ON THE INTERNET: VISIONS AND VIRTUAL REALITIES IN THE SHADOW OF DISNEYLAND
    (pp. 188-216)

    On December 11, 2011, I received an e-mail about the continuing search for a new spirit medium in California. At a newly opened Caodai Teaching Center on Vermont Avenue in Anaheim, local Caodaists had been contacted by a woman whose bloodlines seemed to destine her to be spiritually receptive. Jessica Dung Nguyễn was the niece of Lê Thiên Phuớc, the Bẩo Thẽ, or ranking spirit medium, who had replaced Cao Hoài Sang as the head of the College of Spirit Mediums (Hiệp Thiên Ðài) in Tây Ninh after his death in 1973. She had already had a series of visions,...

  12. CHAPTER 7 A RELIGION IN DIASPORA, A RELIGION OF DIASPORA
    (pp. 217-238)

    Vietnam and California are spatially configured to face each other across the ocean, their long coasts tempting people on each side to gaze out across to the other. Histories of dangerous escapes, migratory yearnings, and promised returns tease the imaginations of both those who remain in the home country and those who ventured out. The sublime oceanic horizon is a screen of possibilities onto which people project their dreams, desires, and delusions. This chapter traces the conceptual trajectory shared, to some extent, by all of the California religious leaders we have followed, who have journeyed at least once (and often...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 239-256)
  14. REFERENCES
    (pp. 257-274)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 275-282)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 283-287)