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EATS Library Grant Recipient: Magdaléna Masláková

Taiwan as the Promised Land? The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan and Its Struggle for Inculturation

SOAS, University of London, UK

Magdaléna Masláková

Last spring the European Association of Taiwan Studies (EATS) announced the EATS Library Grant for 2014. I applied for this grant and was fortunate to have received it. So from 16-28 June 2014 I went to United Kingdom, because thanks to this grant I had great opportunity to travel to a library within Europe for a short research stay. I chose to visit SOAS University library in London, as it is one of the best libraries that focus on African and Asian studies. In this library there are many publications, so I was able to gather a greater part of the literature necessary for my research. This library has a significant amount of secondary literature dedicated to the Presbyterians in China and Taiwan. I had the opportunity to make some copies of books or parts of books, which are important for my research. As I study in Czech Republic, it is always a problem for me to find relevant sources because there are not many publications focused on my research topic. In SOAS library it was though this great chance that I was able to access books, articles, newspapers and also digital materials, which I could not access in my home university. I gained more secondary literature and it provided my research with a better argument. I learnt more information and I deepened my knowledge about the topic.

The topic of my research is the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT). The aim of my research is to observe inculturation strategies of the PCT. I want to examine specific Christian inculturation and missionary strategies in a Taiwanese context. In my research I use Chinese and English documents and public statements of the PCT to observe how have the PCT tried to connect the Christian faith with Taiwan's cultural and historical context, and which intentional strategies have it used to make the Christian faith more attractive for Taiwanese. In analyzing these documents I argue, that concrete inculturation strategies can be examined. I believe that my research is relevant because the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan is still seen as foreign religious system, so conversion to Christianity can mean for people in Taiwan the distortion of norms relating to family life. It can have a negative impact on relationships with the other family members – filial piety or ancestor worship, both of which are a central value of society, but this practice is rejected by protestant faith. For this reason it is very interesting to monitor missionary approach used by the PCT to make the Christian message more acceptable. For example the contextual theology, which allows the PCT to be politically active can be understood as the process of inculturation, or as process of making Christian faith more attractive. The inculturation is not unique to Taiwan, but rather it is a methodology used by missionaries globally. Unique is just its usage by the PCT. In my research the inculturation is not seen as catholic theological approach, but this term is used in the meaning of special kind of acculturation. The difference between the inculturation and the acculturation is that the acculturation represents unconscious process, but inculturation represents conscious strategy. If inculturation is an intentional transmission of system of ideas and values from one culture to another, then the PCT’s Christian ideas (which are specific, but I realize they are not Western anymore) represents the system of cultural values that are trying to be passed to Taiwanese culture. In that case, we can observe intentional process of missionaries and preachers, who try to establish Christianity in different culture. In the study I observe this intentional process in the PCT documents.

As SOAS is one of the most important centre for mission studies in the United Kingdom and it has special collection of missionary magazines, annual reports, histories and memoirs of some missionary societies and individual missionaries, it was very important for me and my research to visit this library. The archives in particular contained correspondence between some Taiwanese foreign Presbyterians. These archival records, while not a primary source for my research, expanded my knowledge on the subject. I had the opportunity to read contemporary letters between the main representatives of the PCT about situation in Taiwan just before and after publishing the first PCT’s public statement On Our National Faith. This letters gave me very important insight to background’s circumstances.

Magdaléna at the Brno Summer School on 'Taiwan: Past and Present', 2013. Photo taken by Ming-Yeh T. Rawnsley

During my stay in London I had also chance to attend SOAS’s Taiwan Studies Summer School, which took place from 18 June until 20 June 2014. The summer school was focused on the Sunflower Movement, which was also interesting for my research, as the PCT supported the protesters and even published some statements concerning this protest movement. Moreover I was able to discuss my research with several scholars (Niki Alsford, Dr Fang-long Shih, Rev John McNeil Scott), who are interested in similar topics. Due to the fact that they are much more experienced they gave me very good advices about the further direction of my research.

I highly recommend other scholars to go to SOAS’s library, as it houses over 1.2 million volumes and a major collection of archives, manuscripts, rare books and special collections. The library’s archives, which include documentation of missionary societies, NGOs or campaign groups, are quite easy to access as all the library staff are very kind and helpful. One can easily find documents, which are useful, through an online catalogue and then complete a paper requisition slip for each box of archival material. This is then followed by a short wait until you get the materials. It is quite a simple procedure. I would give just one advice for researchers, who would like to go to SOAS– you need to have enough space in your suitcase, because if you are not a student of SOAS, you can only make copies of books, you are not allowed to scan them.

I believe that these thirteen days spent in London were very useful for me and I know that it was only possible due to the EATS Library Grant!

Magdaléna Masláková is an MA student of the Study of Religions and a BA student at the Department of Chinese Studies, Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic.