I had a very busy summer. I went to China three times and travelled to Japan and Italy; I attended two academic conferences and one forum. The second annual conference of EASSSR (East Asian Society for the Scientific Study of Religions) was held by Hokkaido University at the end of July. Before that, my university, FGU, had organized a forum with our sister university in China, the North West Normal University. Though I was only given eight minutes for my presentation, I think it was the first time I could talk about my research (undertaken under OCBS auspices) on Fo Guang Shan to my colleagues. I felt my presentation was well received. Of course, I had translated it into Chinese.
In Hokkaido I was planning to speak about my joint research with Richard on the Christian influence on FGS in the EASSSR, as I was pretty sure that none of them had ever heard about our research. Unfortunately, my journey to Hokkaido was very exhausting. I had to take a budget airline from Taipei; the plane took off at 3 AM, but on arrival I had to wait at the airport till 3 pm, when the hotel allowed us to check in. The conference had very bad luck: apparently someone hacked into their bank account, and took quite a lot of money, so that we had to squeeze our conference into two days; there were 4-5 panels taking place at the same time, and I could not give the talk I had prepared.
The third conference I attended in the summer was the CESNUR in Turin. CESNUR is the acronym for the Centro per lo Studio di Nuove Religioni — the Centre for the Study of New Religions. The organizer, a jovial lawyer called Massimo Introvigne, runs this conference annually, and it is colourful and relaxed, because it has an egalitarian ethos and admits both participants in the new religions and academics who study them. I have known Massimo since my student days in the 90s, but I had never had the opportunity to attend it. This time I organized a panel on the new religious movements of Taiwan; it included Richard Gombrich’s talk on Humanistic Buddhism, my talk on Tzu Chi, Miao (my student) on the Bahai, Mo from Beijing and Paris, who gave her field research report on the Bliss Wisdom movement, and a delegation from the Wei Shin Sheng Jiao, a religious group who focus on Yi Jin geomancy. Though, as usual, one would have liked to have had more time for discussion, we certainly conveyed that Taiwan today is a hotbed of religious innovation.
Left – right: RFG, Prof. Yao, Miao, Massimo Introvigne, delegate from Wei Shin Sheng Jiao, and finally Mo.