When the Sage Becomes a “God”
The Spiritualized Confucian Sect of Minh Đức Nho giáo Đại đạo in Southern Vietnam
Southern Vietnam’s tradition has been mainly built on Confucian ideology, although it is a transformed one. There have been two types of Confucianism in the region: state-sponsored and mass Confucianism. During the period of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, under harsh colonial rule, a number of messianic religious movements emerged. The Minh Đức Nho giáo Đại đạo sect (MĐNGĐĐ, founded in 1932 in Trà Vinh province) is one such movement. The sect takes Confucian norms and values as its basic platform and further acculturates and transforms the philosophical values and rituals of Buddhism, Daoism, and Caodaism, as well as popular religions, to consolidate its settings.
This article uses fieldwork––survey data and written documents––and applies historical particularism and acculturation theories, as well as the concepts of “standardization” and “de-standardization” by Watson (1985), to generalize the birth and features of MĐNGĐĐ in the local context. The study provides a comprehensive means to access the history of social thought in pre-modern Vietnam and possible principles of Confucian propagation and transformation in the country. The study finds that Confucianism may easily transform into a religious institution if the civilizing missions of local elites are missing.
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