Building Inter-Asia New Age Networks: Balancing Heterodoxy And Patriotism In Chinese Spiritual Tourism To India

Post Author(s)

The recent military clashes between India and China in the Galwan Valley resulted in the Sino-Indian border heating up to levels unseen in recent years. Meanwhile, India continues to downplay China’s Belt and Road Initiative and refuses to sign a BRI Memorandum of Understanding. In June 2020, parallel to the reports on these tensions, Chinese state media issued a series of articles warning against the proliferation of India-derived new religious movements among middle class urbanites in the People’s Republic, as part of the nation-wide New Age/Body-Mind-Spirit (shen xin ling) fever. Focusing on the case study of O&O Academy (previously known as Oneness University), a popular ashram located in the Southern Indian Andhra Pradesh state, this research discusses the emerging phenomenon of Chinese spiritual tourism to India. It traces the pathways of mainland Chinese spiritual seekers who, following their journey to O&O Academy campuses in India, bring its gurus’ teachings back home and disseminate them by organizing self-cultivation courses, inviting spiritual teachers from India to China, hosting live transmissions from Indian ashrams via WeChat, and offering “spiritual travel packages” to India. These transnational circulations of guru-worship are characterized by frictions, as Chinese New Agers craft different visions of spiritual utopias that combine state-castigated heterodoxy and patriotic/nationalistic discourses: the millenarian message about the coming of the “Golden Age” of humanity and the universal opening of “awareness,” promoted by their Indian teachers, and the project of establishing global socialism with China as a “spiritual leader of the nations,” derived from Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a New Era.

(accepted) Iskra, Anna. 2022. “The Mainland Chinese Body-Heart-Soul Milieu and the ‘Return’ of New Age Teachings to the Sinosphere.” Nova Religio 25(4).

 

ABSTRACT

Since the 2000s, Chinese society has experienced a state co-directed psychologization of everyday life. This is reflected in the popularity of the Body-Heart-Soul (shen xin ling), a New Age self-cultivation milieu that emerged at the intersections of religiosity and secularity. This essay examines the process of “parallel glocalization,” in which Taiwanese and Hong Kongnese intellectuals and spiritual seekers engaged in creative translations of western New Age concepts to introduce them to Chinese speakers. It follows the multiple trajectories through which New Age teachings were rebranded as shen xin ling and introduced in mainland China where they undergo further transformations, an important dimension of the “return” to Asia of many New Age concepts inspired by “eastern” philosophies and religions. These dynamics both facilitate China’s incorporation into the networks of globalizing spirituality and resonate with the processes of the Sinicization of religion used as a tool for control in today’s China.

“Crafting utopias for the New Age. Balancing heterodoxy and patriotism in Chinese spiritual tourism to India.” To be submitted to The Journal of Contemporary Religion.

“Battling kundalini. Imagining India-derived ‘chaotic sexuality’ as a transnational political threat in the Chinese state’s responses to the circulation of neo-tantra in the People’s Republic.” To be submitted to Journal of Contemporary China.

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