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Dream Trippers

Global Daoism and the Predicament of Modern Spirituality

Over the past few decades, Daoism has become a recognizable part of Western “alternative” spiritual life. Now, that Westernized version of Daoism is going full circle, traveling back from America and Europe to influence Daoism in China.
Dream Trippers draws on more than a decade of ethnographic work with Daoist monks and Western seekers to trace the spread of Westernized Daoism in contemporary China. David A. Palmer and Elijah Siegler take us into the daily life of the monastic community atop the mountain of Huashan and explore its relationship to the socialist state. They follow the international circuit of Daoist "energy tourism," which connects a number of sites throughout China, and examine the controversies around Western scholars who become practitioners and promoters of Daoism. Throughout are lively portrayals of encounters among the book’s various characters—Chinese hermits and monks, Western seekers, and scholar-practitioners—as they interact with each other in obtuse, often humorous, and yet sometimes enlightening and transformative ways. Dream Trippers untangles the anxieties, confusions, and ambiguities that arise as Chinese and American practitioners balance cosmological attunement and radical spiritual individualism in their search for authenticity in a globalized world.

352 pages | 11 halftones, 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2017

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Asian Studies: General Asian Studies

Religion: Comparative Studies and History of Religion, South and East Asian Religions


Dream Trippers is compelling, brilliantly and simply written, and will have an important impact not only for those who seek to understand Daoism, but more widely for those who think about how contemporary cultures concretely compete to ‘produce religion’ as an object of interest and study.”

James Miller, Queen’s University

“A fascinating, insightful, and at times quite amusing work. What makes Dream Trippers especially interesting and valuable is its acute attention to the contradictions and ambiguities of the cross-cultural history, definition, relevance, practice, and meaning of Daoism as lived today in a hyper-materialistic China and in a hyper-individualistic United States.”

Norman Girardot, Lehigh University

Table of Contents


1 The Subject
2 The Mountain
3 The Trippers
4 The Cloud Wanderers
5 The Encounters
6 The Scholar-Practitioners
7 The Predicament
Epilogue: The Cosmic Orgasms

Appendix: Methodological Issues
Glossary of Chinese Terms


Anthropology of Tourism Interest Group: Ed Bruner Book Award

Faculty of Social Sciences of Hong Kong University: Outstanding Research Output, Basic Research

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