The Religion of Falun Gong
In July 1999, a mere seven years after the founding of the religious movement known as the Falun Gong, the Chinese government banned it. Falun Gong is still active in other countries, and its suppression has become a primary concern of human rights activists and is regularly discussed in dealings between the Chinese government and its Western counterparts. But while much has been written on Falun Gong’s relation to political issues, no one has analyzed in depth what its practitioners actually believe and do.
“This is a very lucid and readable work of mature scholarship that brings our understanding of Falun Gong to a completely new level. While Benjamin Penny does not downplay the movement’s political significance, he describes for the first time the religious coherence provided by its reliance on textual materials, including internet materials, and carefully explicating the meanings of those texts by reference to both the Chinese tradition and contemporary global culture. Penny thereby makes clear the distinctiveness of Falun Gong as never before, equipping the reader to follow its future history with a far greater appreciation of how it has evolved in the past. However that history unfolds, anyone interested in China or in religion today should read this book.”
“The Religion of Falun Gong is a rare book—it is about a new religious movement, but written with the erudition of a specialist in China’s classical language and religious history. It is also attuned to contemporary Chinese realities and draws on Penny’s own experience in China and with Falun Gong practitioners. Polished and accessible, this enjoyable read is one of the best books available on Falun Gong.”
“Benjamin Penny’s new study presents a highly persuasive case for considering Falun Gong as a religion by examining all its defining features represented in both traditional and contemporary media: history; charismatic personality; doctrinal and informational texts (disseminated in print and electronic format); foundational teachings and continual development; individual and group cultivation; and evolving organizational structures. The systematic treatment, seasoned with judicious comparison with other religions, makes clear the movement’s grounding in certain diction and symbols of historical Buddho-Daoist traditions, selective conceptual idioms and techniques of pneumatic calisthenics (qigong), and the innovative rhetoric of its own. It is a timely and valuable contribution to help us understand China’s new and changing religious landscape.”