Research Project


Knowing fate: an anthropology of contemporary divinatory practices in China and Taiwan

Dr. Stéphanie Homola

The project will focus on the publication of my PhD dissertation and the presentation of its results to the research fellows. The challenge of editing this work is that it combines two research themes that are often separated in the academic literature on divination: practices on the one hand, and texts and techniques on the other. Based on fieldwork conducted in Taipei, Beijing and Kaifeng, this research relies on observations, interviews with practitioners and their clients and on mantic texts including contemporary handbooks.

It first focuses on the categorization of mantic knowledge and practices and how today’s practitioners seek to legitimize their art through a set of discursive categories that are distinct from the religious field, such as science and Confucianism. It examines the status of professional and amateur diviners, the transmission of mantic knowledge and practitioners’ attempts to enable it to cope with academic disciplines. Second, it explores the cognitive mechanisms involved in divination practices, based on the study of mantic techniques and clients’ consultations. It underlines how divination systems operate and help petitioners to monitor their fate. This research shows that divination systems not only work as an information to guide those involved through the social world, but they also provide significant insights into the social organization.

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