2000 Student-Faculty Fellows: Kenyon College

Taiwan (Republic of China):
Ancestor Worship in Taiwan

Mentor: Joseph A. Adler, Department of Religious Studies
Student: Philip A Davolos, ’01, International Studies


Philip A. Davolos

Studying in Taiwan gave me a chance to live in another culture and understand it from the inside. It allowed me to research Chinese religion in the first person, and interview primary sources. It was an experience that has changed the way I view Chinese culture and the world. Ultimately, I plan to submit a paper for publication based on the information gathered in Taiwan, in addition to research performed in the fall semester of 2000. The paper will cover the definition of the family in terms of ancestors worshipped. It will touch on how ancestor worship serves to connect the individual to society, as opposed to being a ritual performed only in the interest of filial duty to the deceased.

Prof. Joseph A. Adler

The trip to Taiwan was especially beneficial to my teaching of Chinese religions. The videotapes I made of ancestor worship in a Chinese home, an ancestral temple, a birthday celebration for a god, a Taoist ritual, worship activities in several temples, and several Earth-god shrines will help me give my students a more intimate feel for the practice of Chinese popular religion. As a collateral benefit, I also met and shook hands with a direct descendant of Chu Hsi (1130-1200), who has been the main focus of my research for twenty years.

Research Findings

In “The Impact of Different Religions on the Chinese Family in Taiwan,” Chu Hai-yuan states that “ancestor worship is in many ways analytically inseparable from the family.” That is, ancestor worship gives place to the living as much as it pays filial homage to the deceased. In the Confucian sense it puts the living world in order, as well as awarding those deserving the proper level of respect. Thus far it is apparent to both of us that ancestors in Chinese culture are part of the living community, not just memories of the past.

Venues for Sharing

Philip will write a substantial paper, which we hope will be published in the Wittenberg University East Asian Studies Journal. In addition to my use of the videotapes in my classes, Philip will give a presentation to the students and faculty of our Asian Studies Program and the Kenyon community on his experiences in Taiwan, including some of the videotape we shot. This will probably be early in the spring semester.