CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne
“I’ll admit New York's great L.A. is real bait
There’s only one place that's got me going gay
I got those blues show me, show me, show me, show Missouri Blues”
Julia Lee (1902–1958), Show Me Missouri Blues, 1946
What a good idea to go to Missouri during the Indian summer! We got ideal weather, beautiful colors, and a lot of history in our field trips, from the Westminster College in Fulton, where Winston Churchill (1874–1965) delivered in 1946 his famous speech introducing the expression “Iron Curtain,” to the Amish villages of Missouri, which are less touristy but not less interesting than those in Pennsylvania. And Mizzou, the University of Missouri at Columbia, is a living museum in itself—not only for its beautiful Victorian buildings but for the memories and exhibit of cartoonist Mort Walker, who created the soldier Beetle Bailey, one of the heroes of my teenage years. I supplemented with a visit of St Louis and all that blues, and Hermann, the German village on the banks of Missouri River, and all that wine (not worse than the Californian in its white version and better in the dessert brands, although I didn’t care for the red)–but this was after the academic events proper. Although, come to think of it, I should mention a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art within the Jesuit-managed Saint Louis University, a unique institution collecting cutting edge contemporary art with religious themes.
The events were in Columbia, bursting with expectancy for the football game of the local Tigers against Florida, although most expected Florida to win. As it is true for other large American universities, Mizzou has everything, and that includes a Department of Religious studies under the expert leadership of Signe Cohen, and even a Vietnam Institute, whose guiding light is Joe Hobbs. It is because of Vietnamese Studies that CESNUR was invited to the series of events entitled “New Asian Religions in a Globalized World” between November 1 and 3, 2017, including private meetings, presentations to faculty and students, and a public lecture. The specialists of Vietnam invited Cao Dai, a 5-million strong Vietnamese new religion, and Cao Dai in turn invited Daesoon Jinrihoe, a Korean new religion of comparable size, and CESNUR, which had the role of placing the two new Asian religions in a larger context. The Asian groups offered beautiful presentations by Cao Dai’s Reverend Tran Canh and Daesoon Jinrihoe’s Lee Gyung-Won and Jay Cha. Director Lee Tae-Yeol was also there for Daesoon Jinrihoe, together with Kim Dong-Wan, while Cao Dai brought Nguyen Tan Khoa from the New Orleans temple. Rosita Šorytė, a specialist of humanitarian aid and refugee issues, also participated, together with a strong and competent group of Missouri professors and emeriti.
Cao Dai, Daesoon Jinrihoe, and CESNUR were introduced to different audiences. In the public lecture, I tried to answer the question why Cao Dai and Daesoon Jinrihoe have both been phenomenally successful. My PowerPoint is now available on this Web site, but in short I believe Cao Dai was able to integrate not only local traditions and missionary Christianity (countless new religions did the same) but to add a third ingredient, Western Esotericism, which was brought to Vietnam by the French colonial elite. Daesoon Jinrihoe, with its core doctrine of “resolving grievances through mutual beneficence,” offered reconciliation to a country badly in need of it, Korea, plagued by anomie and a record suicide rate, political contentiousness and corruption, and the North-South tensions.
Missourians are a very friendly lot. Every single waitress and taxi driver made us feel we were there as friends rather than clients. And the Mizzou faculty and students went the extra mile to make all of us feel at home. As they say, this brought them good luck. In the end, the Missouri Tigers unexpectedly defeated the Florida Gators 45–16. Perhaps they should invite us again.