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Durham e-Theses
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The Secularisation of Identity in a Religious World:
A Case Study of the Atayal Bienjing Village

WANG, I-CHUN (2015) The Secularisation of Identity in a Religious World:
A Case Study of the Atayal Bienjing Village.
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



This study analysed the religious transition of the Atayal people of Bienjing village in Miaoli, Taiwan, and how it influenced the Atayals’ conceptualisation of both the ethnic and cultural identities. The study focused on the Atayal people’s mass conversion to Christianity in the early 1950s, which not only changed their worldview and cultural values but also altered their sense of belonging, as well as the idea of being an Atayal person. In investigating the process and influences of this conversion, I analysed the ritual performances, cultural values and cultural memories of the Atayal people to determine their understanding of the tenets of Christianity. I also examined the power structure, education and daily practices in the village to investigate how the social reproduction of religious beliefs influenced the production of their identity. As a result, rather than looking at the religious affiliations of individuals, their engagement in religious practices or the influence of religion on public matters, I proposed a new mode of ‘secularisation’ that looks at the experience of the sacred. By comparing the experiences of the sacred before and after the conversion, I have illustrated how, instead of being a religious act, the Atayal people’s turn to Christianity was a process of secularisation that divided the Atayal world into the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular,’ as distinct from its previous status as a whole sacred entity, thus differentiating the domains of ‘religion’ from ‘culture’. Therefore, the modern Atayal identities—individual, social and ethnical—are also being secularised and multiplied. Such a change of the mode of identity from a religious perspective, I also argue, not only deserves further exploration for future studies on aboriginal groups’ identities and religious conversions in Taiwan but also serves as another aspect in the discussion of the idea of secularisation in general.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:secularisation; religious conversion; Christianity; Taiwan Indigenous People; Atayal; identity
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Anthropology, Department of
Thesis Date:2015
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:07 May 2015 12:57

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