The Divine Eye and the Diaspora: Vietnamese Syncretism Becomes Transpacific Caodaism

Hardback: $65.00
ISBN-13: 9780824840044
Published: February 2015
Paperback: $32.00
ISBN-13: 9780824851408
Published: February 2015

Additional Information

308 pages | 8 color and 17 black & white illustrations
  • About the Book
  • What is the relationship between syncretism and diaspora? Caodaism is a large but almost unknown new religion that provides answers to this question. Born in Vietnam during the struggles of decolonization, shattered and spatially dispersed by cold war conflicts, it is now reshaping the goals of its four million followers. Colorful and strikingly eclectic, its “outrageous syncretism” incorporates Chinese, Buddhist, and Western religions as well as world figures like Victor Hugo, Jeanne d’Arc, Vladimir Lenin, and (in the USA) Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism.

    The book looks at the connections between “the age of revelations” (1925-1934) in French Indochina and the “age of diaspora” (1975-present) when many Caodai leaders and followers went into exile. Structured in paired biographies to trace relations between masters and disciples, now separated by oceans, it focuses on five members of the founding generation and their followers or descendants in California, showing the continuing obligation to honor those who forged the initial vision to “bring the gods of the East and West together.” Diasporic congregations in California have interacted with New Age ideas and stereotypes of a “Walt Disney fantasia of the East,” at the same time that temples in Vietnam have re-opened their doors after decades of severe restrictions.

    Caodaism forces us to reconsider how anthropologists study religious mixtures in postcolonial settings. Its dynamics challenge the unconscious Eurocentrism of our notions of how religions are bounded and conceptualized.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Janet Alison Hoskins, Author

      Janet Alison Hoskins is professor of anthropology and religion at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. Her books include The Divine Eye and the Diaspora: Vietnamese Syncretism Becomes Transpacific Caodaism (2015), The Play of Time: Kodi Perspectives on History, Calendars and Exchange (1996 recipient of the Benda Prize in Southeast Asian Studies), and Biographical Objects: How Things Tell the Stories of People’s Lives(1998). She is the contributing editor of four books: Transpacific Studies: Framing an Emerging Field (with Viet Thanh Nguyen, University of Hawai‘i Press, 2014); Headhunting and the Social Imagination in Southeast Asia (1996); A Space Between Oneself and Oneself: Anthropology as a Search for the Subject (1999); and Fragments from Forests and Libraries (2001). She served as president of the Society for the Anthropology of Religion from 2011 to 2013, and has produced three ethnographic documentaries (distributed by, including "The Left Eye of God: Caodaism Travels from Vietnam to California” (2008). She has been a visiting researcher at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton; The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles; the Anthropology Department, Oslo, Norway; the Southeast Asian Studies Center, Kyoto, Japan; and the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • Centering on the notion of 'Transpacific religion,' Hoskins pairs the biographical profiles of five founding generation adherents with those of their diasporic successors, also depicting the wider contexts of both. In doing so, she skillfully weaves a brilliantly engaging narrative, outlining the complex history and nature of this movement in Vietnam and overseas. . . . This is an essential reading for the student of Vietnamese religions and those dealing with East Asian new religious movements in general.
      Religious Studies Review, 42:1 (March 2016)
    • The Divine Eye and the Diasposa is meticulously researched, richly detailed and engagingly written, making accessible to Angolophone readers the world of Cao Đài believers overseas and in Vietnam. Her deeply sympathetic portrayal is especially welcome given the complexity of Cao Đài religion and the misunderstandings to which its equally complicated history has given rise.
      —Hue-Tam Ho Tai, Harvard University, SOJOURN Symposium, 31:3 (November 2016)
    • Hoskins’s book is a tour de force. It is a deep history, which incorporates a wide-range of primary and secondary (including film and fiction) sources in Vietnamese. It is a complex ethnography with photographs, interviews, and an intimate portrait of a community that has survived despite emerging from and growing up in one of the most violent places of the 20th century. It is a well-crafted historiography of the ways in which tourists, scholars, novelists, and politicians have depicted, often wrongly, this apparently very odd religion. . . . This book should be essential reading for students and scholars of modern Vietnam Studies and diaspora studies.
      —Justin McDaniel, University of Pennsylvania, SOJOURN Symposium, 31:3 (November 2016)
    • There is much to praise in The Divine Eye and the Diaspora. It addresses foundational issues in the study of religion, diaspora, and decolonization. It links the study of the Cao Đài comparatively to debates over how to study such topics, thus “de-provincializing” the study of Vietnam and the Vietnamese. It is intellectually satisfying: it aptly brings people as theoretically different as Jean Baudrillard, Stuart Hall, Pierre Bourdieu, and Max Weber into a dialogue over a major diasporic religion. At the same time, Hoskins wears her learning lightly. Even when one quibbles with her, this book gives much food for thought, and I recommend it to readers enthusiastically.
      —Shawn McHale, The Journal of Asian Studies, 78:2 (May 2019)
    • Hoskins demonstrates that what others have observed as an "outrageous" religion was, in fact, a drive that was serving a specific function for its community at every point. In short, the first half of Caodaism’ s history served to liberate a colonized Vietnam and the second half alleviated the tensions of exile and migration. . . . The Divine Eye and the Diaspora is an impressive project, one that demonstrates the importance of long-term ethnographic research and the expertise that can only be obtained from years of participant observation.
      —Torang Asadi, Duke University, Nova Religio, 20:2 (November 2016)
    • [T]he rich ethnographic work of the book promises to provide several questions that are ripe for classroom discussion and further analysis. . . . While the book is certainly a contribution for the specific study of the Cao Đài religion and the Vietnamese diaspora, it also provides a good amount of material to discuss with students and fellow researchers in the fields of history, anthropology, religious studies and diaspora studies.
      —William B. Noseworthy, New Mandala, 13 September 2015
    • Rich in historical-ethnographic data, The Divine Eye provides scholars of Southeast Asia with a nuanced and sympathetic understanding of the syncretic tradition of Caodaism. Hoskins engages with and builds on the scholarship of religious syncretism and transnationalism, examining not only the historically conditioned process of religious imagination, but also how diasporic communities rearticulate and rework religious messages and boundaries to 'manage and overcome religious differences and geographical challenges.'
      —Dat Manh Nguyen, Boston University, Southeast Asian Studies, 7:1 (April 2018)
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