Updated 2022-10-28 02:25:49

(Dhaka, October 27, 2022 – By Mohammad Jahangir Alam)
Mohammad Jahangir Alam (born 1977), is an Associate Professor of World Religions and Culture at the University of Dhaka. He earned his MPhil and PhD in World Religions Culture from the same university. As a part of his PhD research fieldwork funded by Cao Dai Overseas Missionary, USA, he studied Vietnamese language and culture at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam from 2012- 2013. An expert on Baha’i Faith, and Cao Dai culture, he authored The Concept of Unity in Baha’i Faith and Caodaism: A Comparative Study in 2010. He was awarded his doctorate in 2020 for “Dao Cao Dai: A Socio-historical Analysis of  a Syncretic Vietnamese Religion and Its Relationship with Other Religions”. His current research interest includes the realization of common aspects of truth in religion for the quest of new dynamics of peace and harmony, and exploring social integration of New Religious Movements (NRMs) through the lens of acculturation. He is a member of United Religions Initiative, Bangladesh CC and Treasurer, International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) Bangladesh Chapter. Dr. Alam served as the Founding President of Bangladesh Youth Association for Religion and Peace (2001-2003).
On October 3, 2021, Prof. Dr. Mohammad Jahangir Alam, Associate Professor and Principal Lecturer of the ‘Tradition of Cao Dai Religion’ course, was promoted to take the post of the Chairman of the Department of World Religions and Culture (DWRC) at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, for a 3-year term from October 2021 to October 2024.
Besides teaching the current course in Caodaism in his new class which started on October 12, 2022, he spent some time writing a new paper on Caodaism to be published in the Arts Faculty Journal for the Centennial Issue.  Please see the following paper titled : A CRITICAL ANALYSIS IN QUEST OF THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CAODAISM AND NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS: COMPARISON AND APPRAISAL
The Arts Faculty Journal
Centennial Issue
Professor Dr. Abdul Bashir
Faculty of Arts
University of Dhaka
Associate Editor
Professor Dr. Rubina Khan Department of English University of Dhaka
University of Dhaka
The Arts Faculty Journal Centennial Issue
Published by
Faculty of Arts University of Dhaka Dhaka-l000, Bangladesh
Published in September 2022
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ISSN : 1994-8891
Welcome to the Centennial issue of the Arts Faculty Journal of the University of Dhaka. This publication marks the occasion when the nation celebrates three landmark milestones in our history—100 years of the University of Dhaka, the birth centenary of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and the Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh’s independence. We pay our most profound homage to the Father of the Nation and express our deepest gratitude to the freedom fighters and all other brave sons and daughters of the soil who laid down their lives for the cause of freedom.
To celebrate the 100 years of Dhaka University. we wanted to continue the intellectual legacy of our predecessors as well as curate and showcase the research activities ‹›f our current faculty members. This special issue features a selection of research articles from diverse fields and trends in humanities to highlight the areas in which our colleagues are conducting their research. The interdisciplinary nature of arts and humanities is evident in the topics covered by our contributors. They include Education, History, Islamic Studies, Philosophy, Religion, Finance, Music, Literature, and English Language Teaching (ELT).
We thank our contributors for sharing their scholarly insights. We hope this volume will appeal to general readers and scholars alike.
Dr. Mohammad Jahangir Alam
Dao Cao Dai or Caodaism appears as a distinct tradition although it proceeds from the Blending of the Great Traditions of the East and the West. These long-established traditions are mostly found to have made a significant and lasting contribution to Vietnamese cultural spaces. In such a social and cultural milieu, Caodaism, together with different new religious movements in French Cochinchina in the early 20th century. The primary objective of this paper is to provide a partial summary of diverse circumstances in which new religious movements emerge even due to the presence of a bias against them. Thus, this paper proceeds by presenting some of the different social-historical contexts on the basis of which new religious movements emerged. In addition, this is an attempt of the current paper that can help us explain and evaluate the socio-historical faces of the origin of new religious movements in order to understand their common features and the manners by which new religious movements come into agreement with Caodaism. Methodologically we use the approach of critical discourse analysis to understand the socio-historical relationship between Caodaism and New Religious Movements (NRM). The findings show a strong eschatological character based on which comes into agreement with most of the New Religions. At the same time, these findings show more meaningful differences between Caodaism and NRMs. This paper concludes with a brief discussion about how Caodaism tends to be quite simple regarding its doctrines and ceremonies like New Religions.
Key Words: Caodaism, new religious movement, three great teachings. Cochinchina. third amnesty of God, and syncretic religion
Sociologically, diverse circumstances  are responsible for the emergence of new religious movements. This may be termed a common phenomenon of contemporary new religious movements. There are many reasons to think about why this phenomenon of contemporary religious movements has caught the attention of the  press,  public,  and  social scientists (Rochford, 2007). According to McGuire (1997),  this  situation may happen only because of a diverse, colorful, or strange assortment of religious groups. As he argues, the types of characteristics of emerging religious movements are related to their cultural settings.  For him, emerging  religious  movements  develop  different  types   of   social organization and specific religious orientations  that  are  particularly  well- suited to the modem social structural places of religion. His assessment comes in agreement with Kim Knott’s understanding of contemporary religion. As Knott (2005) examines, there is a possibility to develop a relationship between religions and the physical, social, and cultural arenas in which it is situated. In addition, at a certain stage there develops dynamic relations between religions and different features of spaces (social, cultural, physical, political, and economic), the place of religion in their structure, its active and passive modes, and its possibilities for dominance, resistance, and liberation. McGuire (1997) further points out that the new religious movements appear anomalous.  As he has identified the main reason, they emerge precisely at a time when previously established  religions  seem  to  be  the  weakest.  But this reason may neither be equally applicable to Caodaism nor  to  Vietnamese  Three  Great Teachings 1.  As far as the emergence of Caodaism is concerned, it appears as a distinct tradition although it proceeds from the blending of the Great Traditions of the East and the West.2 At the same time, for many scholars, these long-established traditions are mostly found to have made a significant and lasting contribution to Vietnamese cultural spaces.
In such a social and cultural milieu Caodaism, together with different new religious movements 3 ,  emerged   primarily   as  a  secret socio-religious movement in French Cochinchina .4   However, in our next attempts we will explore the common nature of the origin of new religions, major factors that work in their development, and how the concept of ‘new’ comes up with an idea whether Caodaism is a new religion. In the end, this paper makes a comparison and appraisal with a view to finding the points of agreement between Caodaism and new religious movements.
Sources of new religious movements: a short historical overview
Historically, new religions arose during periods of change, uncertainty,and dissatisfaction. As the scholars argue, for many, the formal standardized and traditional religions failed to provide answers to the problems of modern existence. Thus, dissatisfaction with the disagreements and seeming irrelevance to much of modern life which characterized the established religions helped to pave the way for the popularity of the New Religions. Notably, in the development of such New Religions, some major factors are recurrent. With special reference to  H. Neill McFarland (1923-2017), Straelen (1963) shows that at least five factors work behind the development of the New Religions such as (1) social crisis intensified by an  intrusive  (disturbing)  culture,  (2)  a  charismatic leader, (3)  apocalyptic  signs  and  wonders,  (4)  ecstatic behavior,  and  (5) syncretic doctrine.  As he further mentions, in the  words of anthropologist Margaret Mead,  the  milieu  from  which  the  New Religions arise, is the ‘ferment of half-abandoned old and half-understood new’. With regard to the same issue, Robbins and Lucas (2007) present Eileen Barker’s (1938) argument 5. The major thread of her argument runs as follows: “the fact of chronological ‘newness’ is indeed sociologically significant because chronologically and organizationally ‘new’ movements tend to share certain typical and important features such as charismatic leadership, a first-generation membership of converts’, a primary reliance on proselytization rather than the birth rare to sustain growth, intcnse intragroup ties, and a significant degree of tension with mainstream society” (Barker 1935 as cited in Robbins & Lucas, 2007, p. 228). At this point, if we analyze the emergence of’ Caodaism we can see that all the factors mentioned above did not necessarily work in the development of Caodaism. For Caodaism, rather its increasing appeal, undeniable vitality, and continued expansion are related to its development that causes a new appraisal.
As Ellwood (197b) shows, the two main sources of new religious movements are the Judeo-Christian heritage and the more formless non-official religious area or cultic milieu. The Judeo-Christian strain is a fertile source of new religions because of its built-in tendency for cycles of renewal, reform, and schism. Most ideas and many ritual practices of numerous new religions were already present in the cultic milieu, but the new movements shaped the ideas and adherents into an organized form. Some new' religious movements claim to be new; others emphasize that they are older even than historical religious  such  as  Christianity.  As per Cao Dai theology and cosmology, revelation began with a Great Way and ends with the third and final stage of the Great Way that is called Dai Dao Tam Ky Pho Do, i.e., Third Amnesty of God  in  the  East  or  Third  Revelation of the Great Way or The Great Way of Third  Universal Salvation.6 Thus, understood Caodaism does not claim to be totally new. Historically, Caodaism is deeply rooted in Sino-Vietnamese culture. And thereby, it may not be in any absolute sense a new ideology, for  its basic tenet is monotheism (Matin,  2006)  corresponds  to  Jewish,  Christian, Muslim and Bahai convictions and on  the  other hand,  the spiritist  sources and its doctrinal characters are in agreement with Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, etc. Therefore, monotheistic, polytheistic tendencies and the primitive options of divinity work together within the belief system of Caodaism. 7 This is how Cao Dai religion has become an outstanding example of a working syncretism. Thus, it rather claims to be a harmonious synthesis of great teachings (Gabriel Gobron1950).
The same phenomenon of religious syncretism has appeared in McGuire’s (1997) observation. He shows that many new religions borrow from Eastern religions such as Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, various Hindu forms of yoga and meditation, or Sikh, Sufi, and Taoist traditions. Other emerging   movements borrow heavily from Celtic lore  (lndo-European folklore),  Native  American  religions,  and  Shamanism.  Nevertheless, as a social phenomenon even the more exotic new religions have their roots identifiable clusters of prior beliefs and practices (MacDonald, 1995). Many of the most successful new religious movements, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons, are organized on firmly patriarchal lines with an all-male leadership. It should be noted that the early nineteenth century, saw many religious and communal experiments.  The New Age has rekindled interest in the Goddess principle, placing it in a feminist context.
Women are also prominent among the fully  engaged  participants  in the New Age. The emergence of Caodaism in the early twentieth century revived the same interest and curiosity in the Goddess principle alongside the principle of Supreme God. Thus, within Caodaism itself, it  is significant that women have had leadership roles offering a new order of both esoteric and exoteric interpretations of Caodaism.
Concept of new religious movements and Caodaism
As soon as mention is made of New Religions, the problem of terminology or delimitation arises. The problem centers on two questions relating to the meaning of “new,” which is considered to be a very relative term. In terms of time. how item is “new'? At what point the new becomes old? In what precise classification does Caodaism belong’! As precise demarcation is always difficult it is not possible  to say whether  Caodaism is a new religion or reformed Buddhism or  a  new  religious  movement. Since this study concerns the relationship between Caodaism and “New Religious movements”, the explicit content of the term need not cause a problem. The term is rather used as a convenient designation for all the religions included in this investigation. As far as “new religion” is concerned, the question is: Can Caodaism really be called “new”? Steyn (2013) in his book New Religious Movements shows three different time frames relating to the emergence of new religions. According to him, some scholars use the Second World War to separate old and new religions, while others prefer using the year 1950 as the watershed. But with special reference to Melton, Moore, (1982) and Beckford (1985) identify the real rise of NRMs as having occurred during the 1960s and 1970s. Thus, according to his observation, if we link the term “new” to any one of the specific dates mentioned, we cannot define Caodaism as a recent phenomenon. We can, therefore, say that Caodaism is no longer a new religion, but rather an old tradition.
Caodaism and new religious movements: comparison and appraisal
To characterize the New Religions, their particular teaching, importance,  ceremonies,  and  sacred  writings  are  especially  considered. Here, it is important to note that new religious movements make full use of group psychology by offering both informal small-group meetings and elaborate mass assemblies. Most of them are highly centralized in their organizational structure. A few of them may have militaristic disciplines. All of them use modem mass media for communication.  They also attract and maintain relationships with a large number of followers. For the most part, these new religions draw their adherents from the lower middle class, or peasant class, especially middle-aged  and  older  women,  although  a  few of them claim to have some followers among the upper middle class and young people as well. Thus, there are a number of similarities that are evident in a comparison of many of the New Religions with Caodaism. 8
In comparison with such New Religions, Caodaism neither has any human founder nor savior. Rather Caodaism claims that God himself is the Savior who talks to humanity directly. 9 In this regard, we can compare some early disciples of Caodaism with the founders of New Religions with a view to understanding some common points. 10 As per scholars of NRMs, the founders of New Religions are usually proficient in spiritual science. Mystical experiences are common with them through which they commune i.e., in a metaphorical sense, engage in conversation with gods, demons, and ancestral spirits (Steyn, 2013). The difference is that the early disciples of Cao Dai did not seek to commune with gods or demons rather different categories of spirits including the Supreme Spirit (Duc Cao Dai). They did not claim miraculous powers of healing like many of the founders of New Religions. Notably, in regard to the organization, Caodaism differs from many of the New Religions. Caodaism, for example, maintains the traditional hierarchy which distinguishes dignitaries and believers while many of the New Religions have rejected such hierarchy. As a syncretic religion, Caodaism comes into agreement with the New Religions. As Straelan (1963) notes, the majority of the New Religions are syncretistic to a greater or lesser degree. Teachings and practices from various other religions or philosophical systems are freely incorporated into their scheme. This process of NRMs, however, marks a continuation with other older religions (Hunt, 2002). However, in the case of Caodaism, it is assumed that during its whole history the adherents have shown a pronounced undogmatic tendency together with great flexibility and adaptability of mind. This characteristic is, in fact, common in the majority of the New Religions.
In sum, a special feature of the new religions, which draws many people to them, is that their leaders give a kind of personal guidance to the believers. In the case of Caodaism, Ngo Van Chieu (1878-1932), Le Van Trung (1875-1934) and His Holiness Ho Phap Pham Cong Tac (1890- 1959), the Defender of the Law, were concerned with the same role.11 Like New Religions, Caodaism tends to be quite simple regarding its doctrines and ceremonies. Moreover, Caodaism comes into agreement with most of the New Religions regarding a strong eschatological character. The New Religions point to a bright and cheerful life sometime in the future in this world. As they believe, when the messianic time has approached a kind of heaven on earth or a peaceful and happy, ever so happy, the welfare state will come into existence. With special reference to Ensuke Konno’s “Nihonjin no Shuzoku Meishin”12 as Straelen views, “Among the New Religions, however, there are those which, because of doctrine, size, or history, are more representative and important than others. Some of these New Religions have reached the stage of development and they have been classified as established religion” (1963, p. 38). Thus, on the basis of his view we can consider Caodaism as an established religion because when we speak of Caodaism, we refer to it as an organized religion like Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. In fact, like Caodaism, the simple, direct, and practical beliefs and practices of new religions equally appeal to the masses who do not feel at home with the complex doctrines of established religions.
  1. Three Great Teachings refer to Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. For good discussion, see The Teachings of the Great Way, pp 35-37 (2015).
  2. Great Traditions of the East and West embodies Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
  3. Alongside Caodaism, there were different new religious movements in the south of Vietnam such as  Minh Ly and Hoa Hao. Hoa Hao is a politico-religious sect thai was officially founded in 1939 by Huynh Phu So.
  4. Indochina (present Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos) fell fully under French colonial control in 1893. Cochinchina referred to the whole of Vietnam, but it was commonly used to refer to the South of Vietnam, while Annam and Tonkin were referred to the Central and the North of Vietnam respectively. For a detailed study, see Vietnam: A History (1983).
  5. Eileen Barker has argued forcefully that the fact of chronological “newness’ is indeed sociologically significant because chronologically and organizationally ‘new’ movements tend to share certain typical, important features such as charismatic leadership, a first generation membership of ‘converts’, a primary reliance on proselytization rather than birth rate to sustain growth, intense intra-group ties, and a significant degree of tension with mainstream society. For a detailed study, see Modern Japanese Religions, p. 33 (1963).
  6. For a good discussion visit
  7. The Cao Dai adherents believe in the Mother Goddess and various types of spirits alongside One Supreme Being.
  8. The foundress of Dai Hizen-kyo, Mrs. Nami Orimo, claims that the highest deity of  the universe had descended upon her, and Kiyomi Miyaoka, the founder of Sei Kyokai, twice experienced a divine descent upon him. For a good discussion visit http://www'.centreoftoveanden1ightenment.nefarticles/what-is-a-descension/.
  9. Regarding this 3rd revelation (the revelation  of God  for  the third  time)  Cao Dai  (God)  said  “Before I founded Caodaism I sent Angels,  Saints, Immortals,  and  Buddhas  to all over the world to promote religious unity." See Cao Dai: A Way to Harmony.  Retrieved from In another message God mentioned: “... I have now firmly resolved to come Myself to show you the Way”. See Thanh Ngon Hiep Tuyen, Q.1 [The Collection of Divine Messages. Vol. I . Retrieved from www
  10. Reverend Thuong Canh Thanh, President of Cao Dai Overseas Missionary views: “To us Cao Dai (Caodaists), Ngo Minh Chieu (or Ngo Van Chieu) is the first disciple, not the founder, because all the foundation of the religion (Sacred Texts: Phap Chanh Truyen, Tan Luat, Bat Dao Nghi Dinh, and Rites, Prayers, etc...) came via divine messages, from God and other Divinities, and not from Ngo Minh Chieu. Ngo Minh Chieu was remembered to see the Divine Eye for us to use as the symbol of the religion”. In supporting Rev. Thuong Canh Thanh, another Cao Dai scholar explains: “The Divine Message on Christmas Eve 1925, The Jade Emperor (God) named his first 12 disciples of whom Mr. Ngo Van Chieu was named first. This means that Ngo Van Chieu was merely the first disciple. All holy documents in Caodaism, for example The Scriptures, New Canonical Codes, Constitution of Caodaism and other instructions were given by the Jade Emperor and other divinities through spiritism, not by Ngo Van Chieu. All of this proves that the Jade Emperor is the Founder of Caodaism”. Sources: Rev. Thuong Canh Thanh and Mr. Tuan Em (personal communication, April 26, 2022).
  11. It is known that some early Cao Dai leaders were very well versed in both Asian classics and western spiritualism. Notably, Ngo Van Chieu, the first disciple of Caodaism, Le Van Trung, its first acting pope, and Ho Phap Pham Cong Tae,  its  longest-reigning leader and defender of the law or religion, appeared to be very prominent leaders in Cao Dai history.
  12. In Japanese Nihonjin no means “Japanese", Shuzoku means "Customs", and Meiishin means “Superstitions". Thus, the title Nihonjin no Shuzoku Meishin means Japanese Customs and Superstitions. It should be mentioned that there are many kinds of books (volumes) about Japanese Life and each volume is written by a different author. The  book of Nihonjiin no Shuzoku Meijin. for example, is one of them (Volume 5 of Complete Works of Japanese Life) written by Konno Ensuke. Source: T.  Amano (personal communication, November 26. 2001).
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