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Women of the Sisters' Hall: religion and the making of women's alternative space in Taiwan's economic restructuring

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Against the background of Taiwan's recent economic restructuring, this article investigates the lives of a group of working-class women who were believers of I-Kuan Tao, a sectarian religion, and who had by and large decided to remain single in order to better practice their religious teaching. They lived together in an I-Kuan Tao temple. This article situates singlehood in the literature of resistance and sees it as a strategy of these women seeking an alternative lifestyle from the culturally prescribed roles of wife, mother and daughter-in-law. Three interlocking factors are particularly important to an understanding of these women's experience: cultural (the Taiwanese patrilineal family), religious (I-Kuan Tao), and economic (Taiwan's post-World War II export-oriented industrialization and its recent economic restructuring). Paradoxically, while trying to establish an alternative social space, these women were also seeking cultural legitimacy for their choice. Marriage resistance, in this case, was an act of both transgression and conformity. Yet the different readings that these women and their families applied to their situations, as well as the ingenuous strategies they deployed to solve their predicaments, also added new elements to the cultural repertoire which, collectively considered, might broaden the range of options for future Taiwanese women who attempt a similar life trajectory. In this article, I therefore caution against a totalizing understanding of the concept of resistance based on its final result, but call for a more nuanced analysis focusing on the process.
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Keywords: I-Kuan Tao (Yiguan Dao); Taiwan; global industrialization; marriage resistance; religion

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Anthropology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York,

Publication date: 01 August 2008

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