Conference Theme

Panel Theme 1: History and Culture
Taiwan folk believers celebrate the birthdays of deities in different ways. From the Qing dynasty on, for instance, they have held the Hail Mazu Ceremony (迓媽祖) in honor of Mazu’s naissance, with musical troupes and religious theme floats from around the island going head to head. These days the celebration is totally modern; the “Techno Triplets (電音三太子), for instance, electrify the believers with electronic music and fancy dance moves. Scholars are invited to reflect on unexpected combinations of the spiritual, the local and the popular in the contemporary expression of the Mazu faith, especially from the perspectives of community identity and cultural tradition.

Panel Theme 2: Faith and Dispersal
Mazu belief has been spread by migrants from China to Taiwan, SEA, Japan, and North America, where it has commingled with local culture in the formation of alternative practices. We may trace the routes these migrants traveled; in Taiwan, for instance, the precinct parades (繞境) follow the routes the early west coast settlers took as they moved north. Today, pilgrimage tour groups cross the Taiwan Strait to express their piety. In recent years county governments have teamed up with the temples to promote local religious culture. Scholars are invited to reflect on Mazu in motion.

Panel Theme 3: Cultural Creativity and Marketing
We live in the age of Q-Mazu – or the Cutification of Mazu. To begin with, the popular figurines for purchase in the nation’s convenience stores. Mazu is no longer an awe-inspiring deity, she’s become an approachable idol. There’s also commemorative “58 proof” liquor and electronica Mazu bandanas. This panel will discuss the proliferation of Mazu’s image in modern society, through video media, marketing mechanisms, literary creation, and sculpture (or molding). We hope to discuss the appearance of Mazu peripherals, in which value added meets spiritual power in an awesome display of kitsch.

Panel Theme 4: Mazu as sea goddess
Mazu is the Chinese ocean deity. Sea-farers from China’s mountainous southeastern coastal region used to pray to her for a safe journey whenever they embarked, whether they were traders or pioneers. Just as the Greeks believed in Poseidon, and the Scandinavians prayed to Aegir, the Chinese invoked Mazu. Yet Mazu makes a peaceful contrast to her bellicose western brethren. Perhaps in this regard there are cultural differences to explore, related to the regional particularities and ways of life of the respective peoples. Scholars are invited to explore them.

Panel Theme 5: Mazu Belief and Modern Society
The annual Mazu’s March Madness is an event for Mazu temples and believers wherever they may be. When the pilgrims set off, they are not only displaying or expressing their piety, but are also retracing the routes traveled by their pioneer ancestors as they moved north from the Tainan area to Chiayi, Changhua and Taichung. Tourists flock to see the pilgrims as they pass through. Mazu’s March Madness is an annual event when performance troupes, parade contingents and hawkers or concessioners converge in a display of Taiwan’s cultural and commercial vitality. This local expression of the carnivalesque has won international recognition and fostered a sense of community or collectivity at home. Mazu’s image is conveyed in different ways, as the traditional becomes fodder for modernized mass media. This panel focuses on three groups, 1) the pilgrims themselves, 2) their followers, broadly speaking, including scholars and tourists, who bring their respective ways of looking, 3) residents along the way, who greet, assist and donate to the pilgrims. Scholars are invited to reflect on Mazu madness as a modern phenomenon.

Panel Theme 6: Temple Tours and the use of Mass Media Technology
As media technology develops by leaps and bounds, Mazu incense offering events are now available as video recordings on the internet, allowing the faithful to watch the spirit palanquin make its way, or even track it with GPS. Now you can experience the atmosphere of Mazu’s March Madness from the comfort of your home. Yet these technological developments have changed the nature of what was once, as an ascetic pilgrimage, a difficult spiritual test, as they have enlarged the scope of Mazu’s influence. Scholars are invited to reflect on this change.