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.
Subjects: Religion, History
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