The Divine Eye and the DiasporaVietnamese Syncretism Becomes Transpacific Caodaism

The Divine Eye and the DiasporaVietnamese Syncretism Becomes Transpacific Caodaism

Janet Alison Hoskins

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780824840044

Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press

Abstract

Caodaism, Vietnam’s third largest religion with four million followers, is now a major world religion. Colorful and strikingly eclectic, it incorporates Chinese, Buddhist and Western traditions along with more recent world figures like Victor Hugo, Jeanne d’Arc, Lenin and (in the USA) the Mormon founder Joseph Smith. Sometimes described as “outrageously syncretistic”, its combination of different elements has been seen as an excessive, even trangressive combination of the traditions of Asia and the West. Caodaism emerged in the 1920s during the struggle against colonialism in French Indochina. Millions converted in the first few decades, and Caodaists played important roles in the nationalist movement and the American war in Vietnam. Communist victory in 1975 led to severe restrictions inside Vietnam, but Caodaism flourished in the diaspora in the US, France, Australia and Canada. The lives of religious founders from the Caodai “the age of revelations” (1925-1934) are contrasted with experiences of their disciples and descendants in the “age of diaspora” (1975-present) when many Caodaists went into exile. Paired biographies of founders and followers show the tension between initial religious inspiration and diasporic re-interpretations in a new context, as the religion has achieved a global outreach on both sides of the Pacific.