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Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Mr Fabian Graham

BA (Central Saint Martins) Jewelry Design, MA (National Chengchi University, Taiwan) Taiwan Studies, MPhil (Cambridge) Social Anthropological Analysis


Fabian Graham
Mr Fabian Graham
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Thesis title:
Contemporary Tang-ki and Lingji Mediumship in Singapore and Taiwan: A Comparative Study of Two Folk Taoist Religious Landscapes
Internal Supervisors

PhD Research

This thesis presents a comparative analysis of the contemporary folk Taoist landscapes in Singapore and Taiwan. The main focus of the research is on tang-ki spirit-medium practices as these play a central role in both religious landscapes, with a secondary focus on lingji mediums. Lingji is a form of New Age mediumship that does not usually involve spirit possession, instead focussing on ecstatic self-cultivation. The movement is indigenous to Taiwan, and is rapidly increasing in popularity.

Previous ethnographic literature is utilized as a baseline of comparison from which to assess the amount of change that has occurred in each location compared to an earlier period, and the fieldwork highlights the differences between the two contemporary religious landscapes. On a theoretical level, assessing the degree of difference that has evolved between them raises the question of whether this not only excludes some elements of these religious landscapes from a theoretical single Chinese religion paradigm, but also makes future developments which radically depart from recent and historical antecedents of folk Taoism increasingly likely. On a speculative level, the thesis explores socio-political explanations that may account for the differences found in each location.

As well as comparing actual trance possession, healing rituals and material culture in each location, there are several areas of analytical interest. These include the creation of new sacred space; the invention and reinterpretation of traditions, symbols and beliefs; self-perpetuating mechanisms within religious groups; and new syncretic practices that incorporate attributes from competing ethnic and religious ideologies.  In addition to participant observation, paranthropology (the anthropology of the paranormal) is employed as a research methodology. This involves key informant interviews with spirit-mediums while in trance and active participation in lingji rituals. This thesis may therefore be seen as a contribution towards a new baseline of comparison for future research into folk Taoist spirit-mediumship in these locations, and as a contribution to the growing body of paranthropological ethnography.

PhD Publications

Graham, F (forthcoming). ‘Chinese trance possession, innovative traditions and the creation of new sacred space in Singapore: An ethnographic perspective’ in Bowie, Pierini, Hunter (eds.) The Ethnography of Mediumship: Spirit Worlds, Trance, and Possession. Oxford, New York: Berghahn. (Forthcoming)

Graham, F 2011. ‘Commentary’ on ‘Reflecting on paranthropology’. Paranthropology: Journal of Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal, 2:3, 20 – 21.

Graham, F 2012. Money God cults in Taiwan: a paranthropological approach. Paranthropology: Journal of Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal, 3:1, 9 –19.


Member of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge.