Building a Buddhist Movement: Tzu Chi, Material Culture and Religious Innovation in Taiwan
Dr Scott Pacey, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Nottingham.
The Tzu Chi Foundation–commonly referred to as ‘Tzu Chi’–is a Buddhist charity organisation that originates in Taiwan. The Buddhist nun, Cheng Yen, established Tzu Chi in 1966, and since then, it has spread beyond Taiwan to become a global organisation. It focuses on four missions, classified under the categories of charity, medicine, education and culture. Today, Tzu Chi has a vast programme of activity in each of these areas. For example, Tzu Chi volunteers provide various forms of aid and assistance in disaster zones around the world. In Taiwan, it presides over a network of hospitals, and its education system extends to the university level. Tzu Chi’s Da Ai (Great Love) Television station, as well as its books and magazines, provide different ways of engaging with Tzu Chi. In this presentation, I will ask, how is Cheng Yen’s message being presented, both within Tzu Chi, and beyond?
To begin answering one aspect of this question, I will discuss Tzu Chi’s history, while contextualising it in the broader history of Taiwan. I will then explore various aspects of Tzu Chi’s material culture. In the decades since its inception, Tzu Chi has produced a wide range of objects that would fall under the category of material culture. This includes (for example) buildings, artwork, and uniforms, as well as various items such as small ornaments. The particular examples of material culture I will discuss can be found in Hualien, on Taiwan’s east coast, and are centred on Tzu Chi’s Still Thoughts Hall. I will consider how Tzu Chi’s material culture can help us understand how Cheng Yen’s Buddhist perspective manifests in social contexts, beyond Tzu Chi’s textual dimensions. I will suggest that studying material culture can provide us with another way of exploring how religiously innovative ideas are established, promoted, and granted durability.
Humanities A02 and online.
Please contact Richard Bell for more information: Atzrhb@exmail.nottingham.ac.uk