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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Buddhist Television in Taiwan: Adopting Modern Mass Media Technologies for Dharma Propagation

  • Author(s): Pham, An Quoc
  • Advisor(s): Yang, Mayfair
  • et al.

With the advent of television in the twentieth century, religious institutions found a new medium with which to use in proselytizing and disseminating religious messages. Adapting the use of the new medium to religious communication has meant adopting broadcast strategies that change the way preachers engage audiences and the way audiences receive religious messages. These broadcast strategies, which are a combination of methods established by secular broadcasting and methods unique to the Buddhist broadcast stations, offer audiences an alternative to established commercial television. Beyond merely serving as a means of entertainment, Buddhist television programs contain ethical messages of morality based on Buddhist tenets that attempt to influence how viewers see and live their lives. In Taiwan, several Buddhist organizations have used the television medium for religious broadcast purposes since the government lifted martial law in 1987. This technological progression in the use of new mediums of communication is taken for granted, but it raises questions of whether technologies like television simply help to spread the same Buddhist messages that have been expounded for generations, or whether the medium and the way in which it is used changes fundamental aspects of how the message is delivered and received. I argue that while the adoption of television and established television program formats by Buddhist institutions in Taiwan follows a long tradition of Chinese Buddhist adoptions of mass media and popular culture, the usage of television changes the very practice of religion through the televised delivery and reception of the Buddhist teachings as well as through televised ritual ceremonies. Taiwan’s Buddhist television channels can be accessed around the world by satellite television and by Internet video streams. The ability to easily access these monastic broadcasts allows for viewers to discuss and comment on the words of Buddhist monks and nuns in new ways that were impossible before technological mediation. My research focuses on both sides of the television – the side of television producers, who negotiate the use of established commercial program formats to conform to Buddhist values, and the side of the television viewers, whose viewing of Buddhist television changes the way religion is received and practiced.

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