Erenlai - Paul Farrelly (范寶文)
Paul Farrelly (范寶文)

Paul Farrelly (范寶文)

Paul is a PhD candidate at the Australian National University in Canberra. His primary research interests are new religious movements and religious innovation in China and Taiwan.

週四, 04 三月 2010 00:00

The great diplomatic balancing act of dialogue: Dalai Lama and the Cardinal

The Dalai Lama’s visit to Taiwan during August and September 2009 was ostensibly religious.  Accepting an invitation from the Democratic Progressive Party in the wake of Typhoon Morakot, Taiwan’s worst typhoon in 50 years, he arrived and explicitly stated that while he admires Taiwan’s democracy, his visit was non-political. And it appeared that way.  The Dalai Lama conducted prayers for the hundreds who perished in the typhoon and offered comfort to their family members.  Twenty thousand people attended the prayer service in the southern city of Kaohsiung.  Furthermore, the Dalai Lama held a public religious dialogue with Catholic Cardinal Paul K. S. Shan.  They discussed the ever-relevant values of mutual tolerance and respect and the importance of using shared religious values to reveal the qualities of humankind.  Both leaders noted that the material development of nations should not occur at the expense of religious or spiritual values, whether by neglect or by suppression.

As representatives of organisations (the Tibetan Government in Exile and the Catholic Church) with strained relationships with Beijing, this final comment carries some weight.  Even more so given the Chinese government’s strongly worded condemnation of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Taiwan.  These statements are routinely issued whenever the Dalai Lama visits, or prepares to visit, a foreign country. Given Taiwan’s delicate relationship with China, visits by the Dalai Lama are especially controversial.  Ignoring any political statements that the Dalai Lama may make, and most seem carefully worded to avoid antagonising Beijing, his visits routinely involve dialogue with local religious leaders and often luminaries in science, business or human rights.  He has even gone so far as to declare that the 21st century should be one of dialogue so as to avoid the bloodshed that typified the 20th century.

The Dalai Lama acts as a catalyst for dialogue among local religious leaders.  For the most part, these leaders would not get together too often to discuss matters of faith, community and tolerance.  When the Dalai Lama juggernaut rolls into town, all of a sudden the media spotlight focuses on religion.  Beyond any sympathy that the general public might have for the plight of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama has a huge following, both through those who adhere to Tibetan Buddhism and those who find solace in his advice on life as published in a large number of easy-to-digest books.  It can be easy to scoff at these events as feel-good hyperbole.  Nevertheless, they are an opportunity for local religious leaders, in the company of a global religious superstar, to search for universal truths, and do so in front of audiences of thousands of people.

In recent decades China has become indispensable to foreign countries, both as a consumer of raw materials and as the world’s factory of manufactured goods.  Somewhat mirroring this rise, the Dalai Lama’s constant foreign jaunts have increasingly become diplomatic issues.  Foreign governments do not wish to offend China, but at the same time, do not wish to be seen to be denying the Dalai Lama freedom of speech and as being bullied by Chinese threats.  Whether or not trade balances suffer will be of concern to leaders, however the civil benefits are also worth considering.  Inspiring local communities to seek and recognise commonalities in large public forums is a role that the Dalai Lama has evolved into being rather adept at and one that can offer much to communities across the world.

 

 
週四, 04 三月 2010 00:00

Cup of tea, TV and religious dialogue

The plane on which religious dialogue occurs is too often conceived as occurring at a high level.  Leaders of faiths occasionally meet in public, be it in front of an audience or a camera.  Within a community, a church may come together with a mosque or temple as part of a festival.  At a lower level, it is not uncommon for neighbours of differing faiths to discuss matters of faith with each other.
 
Dialogue within the family is an additional part of the spectrum of religious dialogue that deserves attention.  The construction of family units can be incredibly diverse.  While several generations might live under one roof, it is not uncommon for family ties to stretch across countries and even between them.  Within the myriad of family dynamics that exist, there are a few key concepts that I wish to focus on.

Whether through choice or destiny, many of our closest bonds are with our family members.  Our family members are the ones who we see on a daily basis, the ones with whom we share the tribulations and triumphs of day-to-day life.  For most of us, the support, understanding and care provided by family members is the necessary foundation for a happy life.  Shared religious conviction can form much of the basis of this stability.  When family members have a faith in common, religious dialogue can almost appear to be a given.  However, when family members have different beliefs or varying levels of commitment, religious dialogue can become an issue.  In the close confines of the family, this can be particularly acute.

In recent decades, religious mobility has become increasingly common, both in Asia and across the world.  New religious movements (NRMs) continue to appear, either offering fresh interpretations of established beliefs or something altogether new.  And beyond the more organised NRMs, there are the nebulous sectors of new age beliefs, self help and spirituality, concepts that are expounded in books and seminars rather than in more established places of worship.

Not only do religions continue to innovate, people across the world are switching their religious allegiance or modifying their beliefs, often in the face of long-established family tradition.  This is enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.

Such lofty ideals do not necessarily filter down to day-to-day reality.  Conversions can cause schisms in the family.  When someone—be they parent or child—converts to a new religious belief, the rest of the family can be traumatised.  The faith of the convert, something that had always been taken for granted, has changed, calling many things into question.  When a member appears to have turned his back on his family, it can be as if they are cutting off the chance for dialogue, rejecting an important part of the family’s identity.  In many cases, this is true, especially when the convert conscientiously chooses to distance himself from his family.

[dropcap cap="T"]he reasons for converting are manifold.  The once common notion that members of NRMs had unhappy relationships with family members has been debunked.  There is just as much likelihood that the convert is from a happy family as from a troubled one.When someone adopts a new faith, it is not always an attack on his family.  [/dropcap]While the convert might be more content with his newly chosen faith, family members too can be happy that their kin has found a faith that suits him better.  However, such realisations can only be reached through discussion and demonstrating the love that the family members hold for each other, not an inherently easy task.
 
 
Intra-familial religious dialogue is not limited to circumstances where one family may have members of two or more religions.  Tension can arise when members share a faith but differ in the extent to which they adhere to the set beliefs or scripture.  Agreement on financial matters and reproductive health are fundamental to family stability.  If one member interprets (or ignores) his family’s faith on a matter such as these in a way that upsets or alienates other members then it can be unsettling.  For the family to continue to remain together, or at least do so fruitfully, dialogue must occur.  Where one point of view is taken as an absolute, either through doctrinal definition or mere tradition, then it can be difficult to find middle ground.  However, when the long-term well being of the family is at stake, these absolutes should be given a bit of leeway, at least in as much as it can help reach a point of understanding.

Religion can be a powerful force for bringing families together.  However, if the stability of a family’s religion is shaken by a member either not sharing the same level of devotion or leaving the faith, and possibly converting, then there is a risk of a serious breakdown occurring.  For there to be continued coexistence and hopefully a point of agreement, the members must come together through dialogue.  For members to challenge, and possibly change, long held (or in the case of converts, newly acquired) beliefs is no simple task.  But to help ensure the chances of the family’s ongoing happiness, this dialogue is essential.

 
週三, 03 三月 2010 16:54

What are the challenges facing higher education in Asia?

Higher education (HE) is an ancient institution. Generation upon generation of students have graduated from all manner of HE institutes trained in the skills required to serve society. While fields such as biology, philosophy, religion and mathematics have long been taught, advances in technology, breakthroughs in research and societal change constantly challenge HE. In order to respond to the needs of society and reflect contemporary thought, HE must forever be adapting. Globalisation and the growth of information technology are two rapidly evolving forces that that HE must not only just respond to, but also influence.

In considering HE in the early 21st century, it is important to question what benefit it should provide. Is HE nothing more than a transition between school and the workforce, a repository of technical information that if absorbed correctly, makes graduates alluring to employers? Or do the (sometimes rarefied) halls of knowledge train students in more abstract disciplines, that while stimulating for the mind, are less focused on equipping students with the skills to work in a modern office? Being the broad church that it is, there is no reason why HE can’t do both, and then some.

HE has the ability to train students in life skills. Beyond problem solving and critical, independent thought, these skills should extend to the interpersonal realm (communication, negotiation) and even the personal (stress management, self awareness). Furthermore, ideally HE should assist in the creation of a modern civil society - the layer of interface between public and private interests. In shaping graduates who have both knowledge and the ability to reason, HE aids the creation and maintenance of a healthy civil society.

While globalization may appear to have ironed out many long held differences between cultures and nations, significant differences remain, both in opportunities and expectations. In HE, this difference is manifested in university rankings. These influential indexes are eagerly examined each year and are dominated by universities in America and Europe. Foreign students are courted by universities and HE is proving to be a boon to domestic economies. In the rush fill lecture halls with students, administrators must be cautious not to compromise that quality of education that their faculties deliver.

How far do HE institutions in Asia go in educating students, both academically and as people? How does education vary between China, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and the West? Where do institutions fall short and what space is there for further development? Is there gender equality in Taiwanese education system? We ask foreigners studying in Japan, Taiwan and Singapore to talk about their experiences of higher education in Asia.

As always, we invite you to reflect on these issues and offer your own opinions.

週二, 26 一月 2010 00:00

Celebrating the Monsoon

By late July, stepping out into the pre-monsoonal weather in Bodh Gaya was akin to wrapping oneself in a blanket that had been soaked in warm water. The thick humidity was inescapable, conspiring to prevent you from being cool at all times of the day. Nights were the worst, especially when the power cut out—a not infrequent occurrence in under-developed Bihar—with the sound of thirsty mosquitos buzzing outside the tattered mosquito net only just masking the discomfort being completely covered in sweat. 

As a visitor to Bihar, I was fortunate. The sticky heat was something I only had to tolerate for a short while, and would not have to do anymore once I had moved on. However for Biharis, and those all over northern India, this is their reality, summer after sweaty summer. That is until the monsoon rains begin, sweeping across the Gangetic plains, cooling sweating brows, stimulating farmer’s fields and reviving rivers from dusty plains to surging watercourses.

 

Last year the rains began in earnest one night at about 10pm. After an hour in an internet café, I stepped outside to discover that not only had it started pouring, but the previously barren road was now awash with water, in some places already well above ankle height. The change in atmosphere was palpable; for the first time in weeks I was outdoors and didn’t feel the need to go somewhere cooler.

The waiter in the café advised me to take care when walking home as the deluge was likely to pick all manner of unhygienic items into the torrent running down the street, and I should take care not to step on something unpleasant. Walking down the street I caught sight of some boys playing in the water.

Paul_Farrelly_Moonson1These boys were demonstrating no such caution. They had stripped down to their underwear and were thrashing around in the deeper pools, playing in the newly abundant water, something that a mere day before had been just a dream. One of the boys in the shadowy pools had the contortedly arachnid limbs of a beggar – his legs most likely broken at an early age as an entrée into a life of pan handling. I had seen this same boy hours earlier, shuffling along the pavement outside the Mahabodhi temple, desperately seeking small change from pilgrims and tourists. The grim determination that had infused his previous expressions had been transfused by the sudden downpour. A luminous smile spread across his face as he rejoiced in the first monsoonal rains of the year, cooling and cleaning himself by the side of the road.

His joy was undoubtedly shared by everyone else across the state who was waiting for rain. Relief was at hand and there was hope for the future: water and food supplies looked that bit more secure. However, everyone would be aware of the power of these rains. In most years floods cause considerable damage to property, livestock and people in Bihar, with human death tolls of more than 100 frightfully common. And in August 2009 the rains ultimately proved to be deadly once again, with more than 50 people dying. [inset side="right" title="Paul Farrelly"]Paul is a graduate (MA/MAPS) of the Australian National University in Canberra. While there, he researched new religious movements in East Asia with an emphasis on those based in Taiwan. Paul is now studying in Taipei.[/inset]

Just as celebrations mark change and transition, so too do they indicate that the new situation is also nothing more than another fleeting moment, an instance that will pass, just as what it has come to replace has already moved on. Being lifted up in the ecstasy of the celebration can be fantastic; the respite and abundance brought by the monsoonal rains of Bihar are fair cause for jubilation. But the monsoon did not just revive the countryside and refresh residents, it ultimately brought about destruction. The tragic inverse is always lurking and should never be discounted as a possibility.

 

 
週四, 24 十二月 2009 20:37

Mount Zion and Typhoon Morakot (Part I)

Mount Zion in Kaohsiung County is the home of the New Testament Church and, as the church believes, venue for the tribulation.
Mount Zion was damaged during Typhoon Morakot and seven church members lost their lives. While this was a great disaster for the family and friends of the deceased, the church sees them as saints who worked for the glory of God up until their death and have now ascended to heaven, thereby setting an example for their fellow church members.
週二, 19 一月 2010 20:16

Mount Zion and Typhoon Morakot (Part II)

 

Mount Zion in Kaohsiung County is the home of the New Testament Church and, as the church believes, venue for the tribulation.
Mount Zion was damaged during Typhoon Morakot and seven church members lost their lives. While this was a great disaster for the family and friends of the deceased, the church sees them as saints who worked for the glory of God up until their death and have now ascended to heaven, thereby setting an example for their fellow church members.

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