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Attuning to ‘the oneness’ in ‘the church in Taiwan’: an historical ethnography

Breen, Gareth Paul (2019) Attuning to ‘the oneness’ in ‘the church in Taiwan’: an historical ethnography. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis describes the life of an international Christian group in Taiwan, which is referred to by members simply as “the church” (zhaohui, 召會) and regionally as “the church in Taiwan” (taiwan zhaohui, 台灣召會). It is more widely known as “the Little Flock”, “the Local Churches” and “Assembly Hall”. The group is founded upon the teachings of the Chinese Christian reformers, Watchman Nee (Ni Tuosheng, 1903-1972) and Witness Lee (Li Changshou, 1905-1997). Initially expanding the group in China, from the late 1940s onward Lee and other group members fled to Taiwan, to escape Mao’s communist takeover. From there, the group spread world-wide. The church’s ‘ministry’ (zhishi, 職事) consists of a relatively unique, detailed and extensive set of ideas concerning the importance of “oneness” (heyiwujian, 合一無間). The group also engages in a distinctive set of aesthetic, linguistic and bodily practices. Aside from describing the group, the thesis attempts to do two further things. First, it attempts to understand the contemporary and historical continuities and discontinuities between this group and other forms of religiosity in China and Taiwan. Secondly, it attempts to construct an ethnographic theory of social unity. Adopting Phillipe Descola’s (2013) “ontological regime” of “analogism” as a frame of ethnographic description and historical contextualisation, I argue that church concepts of “oneness” draw upon pre-conceptualised, and pre-Christian Sino-Taiwanese approaches to social unity. To this “analogistic” framework I add the concept of “attunement”, which is inspired by longstanding Chinese debates concerning the relations between cosmological structure (tianli, 天理) and social propriety (li, 禮). Throughout the thesis I try to understand the social reality of oneness in the church in Taiwan as a “parallax” of sameness and difference, movement and stasis, to which church members are variously attuned.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 Gareth Paul Breen
Library of Congress subject classification: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Stafford, Charles and Cannell, Fenella

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