National Taiwan University and Tenri University Co-host Religious Studies Symposium in Taipei

On November 21 and 22, National Taiwan University and Tenri University co-hosted a symposium entitled “Comparative Studies of Religions in Taiwan and Japan.” This symposium, held in Taipei, was organized with the aim of further developing religious studies in Taiwan and Japan through academic exchanges between the two universities. Representing Tenri University, several scholars including President Taketo Hashimoto and professors from the Department of Religious Studies spoke at the top institution of higher education in Taiwan to introduce the research accomplished in religious studies at Tenri.

This symposium originated from the friendship between Bishop Yoshiaki Mihama of the Mission Headquarters in Taiwan and Professor Lin Duan, associate dean of the College of Social Sciences at National Taiwan University. After becoming interested in the teachings through Bishop Mihama, Professor Lin visited Tenri last February, accompanied by Bishop Mihama, and had a meeting with professors from the Department of Religious Studies at Tenri University. Two months later, he approached them on behalf of his university with the idea of co-hosting a symposium. Regarding the symposium as a step in the Taiwan mission, the mission headquarters acted as an intermediary between the two universities in the preparation process.

Recently, it has often been said that Taiwan has become an extremely academic background–oriented society and its college-going rate reaches close to 90%. At National Taiwan University, currently about 30,000 students are enrolled in its 11 colleges. Its alumni include Nobel Prize–winning scholars and former presidents of Taiwan.

Held at the off-campus conference hall affiliated with the College of Social Sciences, this symposium was open not only to academics but also to students and lay people and drew some 150 participants. Local followers and some staff members of Tenrikyo Overseas Department served as translators and interpreters behind the scenes.

At the opening, National Taiwan University Vice President Chen Tai-jen delivered an address, saying: “I have heard that Tenrikyo is very active not only in Japan but also in Taiwan. From the perspective of furthering the interactions between Japan and Taiwan and the development of religious studies, I am delighted with exchanges between the two universities.” Then, President Hashimoto of Tenri University took the podium to deliver his address, expressing his hope, “I am sincerely hoping that this symposium will lead us to conduct exchanges in broader areas including literature, history, and sports.”

President Hashimoto went on to give a paper entitled “Structure and Function of the Kagura Service: From the Perspectives of Mythology and Ritual.” He began by speaking about the Teaching’s day of origin and emphasized: “Oyasama taught the Service and the Sazuke as the fundamental means for world salvation, and they have been passed down to this day in the exact form taught by Her. This is one of the things unique about Tenrikyo.” He then provided the listeners with an explanation of the meanings embedded in the Kagura Service, referring to the first three sections of the Mikagura-uta, The Songs for the Service.

During the symposium, presentations were given by ten scholars based on their areas of interest, including five from Tenri University, namely professors Yoshinori Sawai, Yoshitsugu Sawai, Masahiko Okada, Saburo Morishita, and Masanobu Yamada. Likewise, five Taiwanese scholars including Professor Lin shared with the audience their research on such areas as comparative religious studies and the folk religion of Taiwan. After each presentation, the listeners were provided with a Q-and-A session, where energetic discussions took place.

Professor Lin said: “I have come to realize the great abilities of the professors from Tenri University and those of the translators with the Tenrikyo group. I was impressed that those professors are equipped with deep knowledge not only about Tenrikyo theology but also religious studies in general. Currently, new religions have shown signs of gaining popularity in Taiwan and China. This phenomenon has increased the importance of religious studies. Hopefully, we can continue to hold this sort of useful symposium on a regular basis so that it can serve as the foundation for collaborative research on religions in the East Asia region.”

“I have been curious about Tenrikyo, one of the well-known religions in Taiwan, because my mother is Japanese,” said a participant named Koji Shibuya, a master’s student at National Taiwan University. “After listening to the presentation given by President Hashimoto, I feel that Tenrikyo seems different from certain other religions in which some people are driven to practice by self-serving motivations. What made a great impression on me was the importance of saving others and the existence of God embodying warm parental love.”

One of the speakers, Professor Chang Chia-lin–who serves as dean of the Department of Religious Studies at Aletheia University in Danshui, Taipei, as well as vice president of the Taiwan Association for Religious Studies–noted: “I have seen some similarities between the religious sentiment in Tenrikyo and folk beliefs in Taiwan such as respecting parents or ancestors. Interreligious or interethnic exchanges are important in that they are conducive not only to advancing academic research but also to establishing mutual understanding between religions.”

Professor Emeritus Noboru Ota of Tenri University, who currently teaches at the Department of Japanese Language and Literature in the College of Liberal Arts at National Taiwan University, said, “Since our university is going to make a fresh start as of the next academic year in order to enhance its further internationalization, there is a lot to learn from National Taiwan University, which is known for its global competitiveness.”

“Interactions with National Taiwan University, which has earned outstanding credibility with people in Taiwan, can have a significant impact on the growth of the path in Taiwan,” said Bishop Mihama. “If future exchanges spread the name of Tenri more widely, that can give strong backing to the local missionaries.”

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