This talk is based on the newly released book Dream Trippers: Global Daoism and the Predicament of Modern Spirituality (University of Chicago Press), a multi-sited ethnographic study of transnational encounters between American spiritual tourists and practitioners and the Chinese monks and hermits of the sacred Daoist peak of Huashan. The co-authors will discuss the dilemmas facing Daoism as it is reconstructed as a modern, globalized spiritual path.
American Daoism, with its emphasis on the body, subjective experience, and self-fulfillment, is a recent expression, and perhaps the fullest consummation, of a long history of spiritual individualism in the West, tending toward the complete disembedding of religious practice from place, tradition, and collective identity. Daoist self-cultivation may appear to be the ideal Oriental counterpart to this Western spiritual individualism—but, in China, it has historically tended to express a tendency toward, and not away from, embedding in locality, tradition, and Chinese national identity. The encounters at Huashan reveal the impasse which threatens both trajectories today, in a condition of high modernity: the fragility of a fully autonomous spiritual self on the one hand, and the crumbling away of the traditional authority of Chinese Daoism on the other.
Dr. David A. Palmer is an Associate Professor of Anthropology, Department of Sociology and Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, at the University of Hong Kong. After completing his PhD in the Anthropology of Religion at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris, he was the Eileen Barker Fellow in Religion and Contemporary Society at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and, from 2004 to 2008, director of the Hong Kong Centre of the French School of Asian Studies (Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient). His books include the award-winning Qigong Fever: Body, Science and Utopia in China (Columbia University Press, 2007); The Religious Question in Modern China (co-authored with Vincent Goossaert, University of Chicago Press, 2011; awarded the Levenson Book Prize of the Association for Asian Studies); and Dream Trippers: Global Daoism and the Predicament of Modern Spirituality (co-authored with Elijah Siegler, University of Chicago Press, 2017).
Dr. Elijah Siegler is a Professor of Religious Studies at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. He has degrees from Harvard University and the University of California at Santa Barbara. He has published an introductory textbook on New Religious Movements (Routledge, 2007), and articles about religion in film and television, on American Daoism, and on religious studies pedagogy. He recently edited Coen: Framing Religion in Amoral Order (Baylor University Press, 2016) and co-wrote, with David Palmer, Dream Trippers: Global Daoism and the Predicament of Modern Culture (University of Chicago Press, 2017)