More Universal Than Catholicism?
Mary Among Asian Religions
Online Conference 10-12 May 2023
The figure of Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, has long been present among Asian people. Scholars have extensively explored how Asian Catholics use their local culture and national context to translate the features and meaning of this religious figure (Cruz 2015). However, Mary has also crossed religious boundaries and been integrated into the continent’s various religious and cultural traditions. Among Filipino-Chinese Catholics, Mary can be juxtaposed to and identified with Chinese deities like Mazu and Guanyin (Dy 2014). In Japan, she has long embraced the attributes of the bodhisattva Kannon (Habito 1994). In India, Indonesia, and Pakistan, Marian shrines attract thousands of Hindu and Muslim pilgrims (Bloomer 2018, Laksana 2014). And in Trinidad, Hindu migrants come to worship Mary as a representation of the goddess Kali (Tsuji 2020). Across Asian people, places, and traditions, Mary stands as a pan religious figure.
Furthermore, ways to approach and engage with her vary tremendously among people of different faiths and cultures. Often, Mary is made present through the display of images and statues with artistic, ethnic, and gender particularities which call for critical attention (Habito 2014, Ninh 2017). Those statues can become the center of larger rituals including material offerings, collective pilgrimages, and chanting ceremonies. Rooted in broader cultural meanings, these practices involve various modes of subjective and bodily engagement. And for some healing rituals and counseling sessions, Mary can even be encountered through highly codified possession (Bloomer 2018).
This workshop investigated the many ways Mary is understood and engaged by Asian people around the world. It explored how Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Asian devotees from various faiths approach her. It discussed the rituals, collective practices, and artistic expressions they deploy in relation to her. At a more theoretical level, this workshop aimed at questioning what those Marian devotions say about the notions of religion, migration, interreligious relations, gender, and popular religiosity.
As part of the Asian Marianism pilot research project, this online conference was jointly organized by the Initiative for the Study of Asian Catholics (ISAC) – an initiative hosted by the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore – and the Centre for Marian Studies, St Mary’s University, Twickenham, London, UK.
To make these conversations on Mary in Asia more broadly available, we intend to produce a podcast series. It will be accessible for free through UCANews website. Yet, we are looking for financial support to produce this new series. If you can help us, please consider making a donation through this link.
If you or someone you know would like to be informed about the release of this podcast series (probably summer 2023), you can register your email address here:
• Bloomer, Kristin C. 2018. Possessed by the Virgin. Hinduism, Roman Catholicism, and Marian Possession in South India. New York: Oxford University Press.
• Cruz, Deirdre de la. 2015. Mother Figured: Marian Apparitions and the Making of a Filipino Universal. London: The University of Chicago Press.
• Dy, Aristotle C. 2014. “The Virgin Mary as Mazu or Guanyin: The Syncretic Nature of Chinese Religion in the Philippines.” Philippine Sociological Review 62: 41–63.
• Habito, Ruben L. F. 1994. “Maria Kannon Zen: Explorations in Buddhist-Christian Practice.” Buddhist-Christian Studies 14: 145–56.
• Laksana, A. Bagus. 2014. Muslim and Catholic Pilgrimage Practices: Explorations Through Java. Farnham: Taylor & Francis Group.
• Ninh, Thien-Huong T. 2017. Race, Gender, and Religion in the Vietnamese Diaspora: The New Chosen People. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.
• Tsuji, Teruyuki. 2020. "The Power of the Illegitimate." New West Indian Guide 94, no. 3/4: 211-44.