Cult, Culture, and Authority: Princess Lieu Hanh in Vietnamese Historyby Olga Dror
Princess Lieu Hanh, often called the mother of the Vietnamese people by her followers, is one of the most prominent goddesses in Vietnamese popular religion. First emerging some four centuries ago as a local sect appealing to women, the princess’ cult has since transcended its geographical and gender boundaries and remains vibrant today. Who was this revered deity? Was she a virtuous woman or a prostitute? Why did people begin worshiping her and why have they continued? Cult, Culture, and Authority traces Lieu Hanh’s cult from its ostensible appearance in the sixteenth century to its present-day prominence in North Vietnam and considers it from a broad range of perspectives, as religion and literature and in the context of politics and society.
Over time, Lieu Hanh’s personality and cult became the subject of numerous literary accounts, and these historical texts are a major source for this book. Author Olga Dror explores the authorship and historical context of each text considered, treating her subject in an interdisciplinary way. Her interest lies in how these accounts reflect the various political agendas of successive generations of intellectuals and officials. The same cult was called into service for a variety of ideological ends: feminism, nationalism, Buddhism, or Daoism.
Another central issue concerns the relationship between popular religious cults and state authority—whether rulers give primary emphasis to cults as superstition or as culture. Dror uncovers a curious resonance between the premodern and socialist eras, during which rulers regarded popular religion primarily as a superstition to be regulated and controlled (if not eradicated), and the colonial and postsocialist eras, when rulers viewed religion as a cultural asset. Cult, Culture, and Authority will find a wide and appreciative audience among students and scholars of Vietnamese culture, religion, literature, and history, both modern and premodern, as well as those with an interest in popular religion and its cultic aspects across Asia.
About the Author
Olga Dror is assistant professor of Asian history at Texas A&M University, College Station.