The Allure of the Mystical

East Asian Religious Traditions in the Eyes of Alma M. Karlin

Authors

  • Maja VESELIČ University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts, Slovenia

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.4312/as.2021.9.3.259-299

Keywords:

Alma M. Karlin, East Asia, religious beliefs and practices, comparative religion, travel writing

Abstract

Alma M. Karlin (1889–1950), a world traveller and German-language travel and fiction writer, cultivated a keen interest in religious beliefs and practices of the places she visited, believing in the Romantic notion of religion as the distilled soul of nations as well as in the Theosophical presumption that all religions are just particular iterations of an underlying universal truth. For this reason, the topic of religion was central to both her personal and professional identity as an explorer and writer. This article examines her attitudes to East Asian religio-philosophical traditions, by focusing on the two versions of her unpublished manuscript Glaube und Aberglaube im Fernen Osten, which presents an attempt to turn her successful travel writing into an ethnographic text. The content and discourse analyses demonstrate the influence of both comparative religious studies of the late 19th century, and of the newer ethnological approaches from the turn of the century. On the one hand, Karlin adopts the binary opposition of religion (represented by Buddhism, Shintoism, Daoism and Confucianism) or the somewhat more broadly conceived belief, and superstition (e.g. wondering ghosts, fox fairies), and assumes the purity of textual traditions over the lived practices. At the same time, she is fascinated by what she perceives as more mystical beliefs and practices, which she finds creatively inspiring as well as marketable subjects of her writing.

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Published

10.09.2021

How to Cite

Veselič, M. (2021). The Allure of the Mystical: East Asian Religious Traditions in the Eyes of Alma M. Karlin. Asian Studies, 9(3), 259–299. https://doi.org/10.4312/as.2021.9.3.259-299

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Section

East Asian Traditions: Perception and Representation in Alma Karlin’s Writing