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Cultural Governance and Politics of Memory in the Heritagization of Popular Religion

Issue 7: Cultural Governance and Politics of Memory in the Heritagization of Popular Religion

This project is proposed by Ming-Chun Ku, at the Institute of Sociology, National Tsing Hua University.


Popular religion has been one of the collective practices of preserving memories about folk culture and local community. Such a practice is reframed as “intangible cultural heritage” or “cultural assets in the recent heritagization in Asian countries. This research intends to analyze and compare the heritagization of Mazu belief in Taiwan and China that involves the cultural governance of folk belief and the reshaping of religious collective memory. The Mazu belief in China resurged after the Chinese economic reform in the early 1980s. In 2009, it was nominated by the Chinese government as a China’s representative item and  listed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Mazu belief in Taiwan, on the other hand, appeared as one of Taiwan’s “intangible cultural assets” of folklore announced by the Bureau of Cultural Heritage (Ministry of Culture) in 2010.  The heritagization of Mazu belief involves the interactions between two trajectories: the development of popular religion, and cultural inheritance.  It allows the cultural practice of popular religion to be associated with the value framework defined by the international heritage preservation, and further to be translated as a part of an authorized heritage discourse under cultural governance. Heritagization therefore is made into a crucial institutional segment that is able to intervene in the remaking of popular culture, as well as the transitioning of cultural practices in the religious communities of the local and the transnational. In addition to analyzing the religious cultural transition occurred along with the process of heritagization, this research focuses on addressing the implications of such phenomenon with regards to cultural governance.  In a changing relationship between the nation-state and popular religion, how does the heritagization of popular religion that reconstructs popular culture and reshapes religious collective memory become a technique for the nation-state to govern the local, the popular, and the cross-border religious communities?  Due to the cross-border feature of the Mazu belief practice, this research, in addition to analyzing and comparing the cases of heritagization of Mazu religion in Taiwan and China, will address the mutual impact upon the cross-border religious communities and religious development in different locales brought forth by the process of heritagization.