Museum of World Religions

Museum of World Religions - What’s the word? Anyone been?

They’re located in Yonghe, at #236 Zhongshan Road, Section 1, 7th Floor. Their telephone number is (02) 8231-6666. They’re closed on Mondays, and open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays from 10:00 to 6:00 pm, and on Fridays, Saturdays and days before national holidays from 10:00 to 9:00 pm. It’s $250NT to get in…

I’ve been. Mixed feelings about it. It’s about NT 200, if memory serves. Founded by a Buddhist monk from China (who BTW got caught with the Chinese herbal equivalent of viagra!). His disciples run the place.

It made me feel a little creepy–they wait for you to get off the elevator, and “escort” you to the ticket-buying counter with a hush-hush look on their faces. The lights are all turned low. I think they want you to have a religious experience when you go inside. Or at least not back away when you find out how much it costs.

The entrance takes you past a wall of running water which invites you to mentally cleanse yourself (anybody remember the Beavis and Butthead movie, where they discover the self-flushing toilet? now THAT’s a religious experience) and then a wall where “peace” or something is written in eight or ten languages. There’s a “wall of philosophers” (just their names written on the wall), and a big metal ball with some astrology stuff around it. No golden calf, alas.

And on the way you walk past black-and-white life-sized photos of a bunch of people bowing and scraping. (If you look carefully you can spot our very own Father Jonah! Look for the picture of an Orthodox monk, with the beard.) Setting an example for us, no doubt. The presumed object of their genuflection is this digital wall that does a sort of Kirlian photography of your hands, or whatever other warm body parts you slap against it. Very spiritual, I’m sure.

Then they show you a film on God creating the world. Or was it the Buddhist equivalent? Sorry, I’m blanking out on this part. Maybe that’s where they brainwashed me to KILL KILL KILL…!!! and this is the cover memory.

There was supposed to be something called “Avatamsaka World” (a depiction of Indra’s net, from the Hua Yen Sutra?) but it was closed when I went there.

The museum was designed by the same people who did Washington DC’s holocaust memorial. Translation: the monk in charge wanted the best of everything, and associated “brand name” with quality. Or maybe the local rabbi steered some business their way…? Anyway, it looks like something from a sci-fi convention. The set of the Starship Enterprise?

It’s got two floors. One floor is organized according to stages of the life process–birth and death and so on. It’s pretty sparse, considering the subject. There’s also a center room with a variable display–when I went, it was Tibetan Buddhist stuff. Pretty.

Upstairs there are separate (mostly permanent) displays for about ten religious traditions. Let’s see if I can remember them all: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinese religions, indigenous religions (Mayan for now–it rotates), ancient religions (Egyptian for now), and one other. One of the signs mentions “Baha’i” “Voodoo” and “Christian Science” but they’re nowhere represented. Neither is Yiguandao, the third-largest Taiwanese religion.

The displays are very “Generation X”–lots of TV screens, headphones, and computer gimmicks. The objects themselves are colorful enough but not very abundant–maybe a dozen to each religion, on a display case about three meters long.

The emphasis is on big, international religions–which means that if you belong to a religion not on their list, or with any local characteristics at all, they’re not very interested in you. No Mormons, no Quakers, no ghulat Muslims, no Caodaists, no Wicca, no Javanese forms of Islam–just the plain vanilla, thank you very much. Even the “Buddhism” section doesn’t pay much attention to the local Taiwanese form of it, as opposed the professional kind run by monks.

The gift shop, as usual for museums, is full of expensive kitch. I was hoping for a book section, but the only books they had were all in a series of publications by Bedi’uz’zaman Said Nurcu, a 20th century Turkish Sunni teacher who founded that country’s answer to the Moral Majority. Very strange…

The museum is one of those Taiwan experiences.

Definitely worth a visit if you want to learn something more about Taiwan, but less so if you are interested in the suppposed subject.

If you enjoy the Traffic Museum, you’ll like this one.

They do have a revolving display on local Taiwan religion. When I went, it was an exhibit on votive objects on household altars. Which is useful enough as far as it goes, but barely scratches the surface of religion here. Buddhism and I think Taoism were separate displays. The Buddhism display was oriented more toward the international kinds–monk-run rather than popular, which is a big political point in Taiwanese Buddhist history–and the Taoism display was more institutional and pan-Chinese. (Whether “Taoism” includes the folk religion is another murky political subject. Who speaks for Taoism–the big institutions, or everybody’s grandmother?)

Oh yeah–the tenth religion was Shinto. Chiang Kai-shek’s government converted Shinto shrines here into the Grand Hotel, the Martyr’s Shrine, and God knows what else. Meanwhile the Communists were doing things like that with churches and mosques.

I see that my eyes skipped over the original post’s mention of the price: 250 NT, not 200.

I remember reading that when the museum first opened, Al Gore was scheduled to come give a talk. Bu then he started thinking seriously about running for president again, and it must have dawned on somebody that it would look bad for him to get photographed taking red envelopes from Buddhist monks! Or was he anticipating possible future diplomatic problems with China, if he won? Anyway, he backed out at the last minute.

A Taiwanese, museum-going friend of mine told me that she found it to be quite disappointing. Lots of hype, very little pay-off. I’m still planning on visiting sometime because I suspect, as Feiren mentioned, that it will shed some light on Taiwanese religions, and culture in general.

If you’ve haven’t been to the Aboriginal Peoples Museum across the way from The National Palace Museum yet, that may be a better choice. I though it was very well put-together.


My comment above was a bit obscure. What I really meant was that if you visit the museum, you may learn something about how the Taiwanese view themselves and ‘culture’ in general. It will be a kind of anthropological experience. While this is true everywhere, the whole business of museums–what the Taiwanese think they are so important, how they are run, and by whom are all very interesting here.


My comment above was a bit obscure. What I really meant was that if you visit the museum, you may learn something about how the Taiwanese view themselves and ‘culture’ in general. It will be a kind of anthropological experience. While this is true everywhere, the whole business of museums–what the Taiwanese think they are so important, how they are run, and by whom are all very interesting here.[/quote]

Yes, that is how I read your comment, though it isn’t readily apparent in my response.

I once translated a series of documents for a woman who was planning to go overseas to study a graduate level museum science program. She was very open in her criticisms of Taiwan’s museum business. Interesting stuff.

I visited the museum last year. I wrote an article about it which was published in Seeds of Peace. article: A museum for the new millennium

There is a free (free after you pay $250 for a ticket) guided tour every day at 2pm (I think, not 100% sure). The tour is only in Chinese, but worthwhile if you can understand Chinese or go with a friend who can translate for you.

I think the museum has been designed as an experience rather than something to just look at. The lower floor shows the different stages of life–birth, death, marriage, etc. They are not really preaching any religion, just showing the role that it plays in people’s lives. The upper floor has displays relating to ten religions – exactly how they decided on these ten religions I am not sure but they omitted Confucianism (although you could argue it is not a religion) and included Shintoism which while it is a religion is only found in Japan. Perhaps this was to please a Japanese sponsor. Zoroastrianism is also missing. Although no longer a major religion it is historically important.

The museum is the vision of Master Hsin-tao. He is an interesting person. He came to Taiwan as a Burmese refugee and former KMT soldier. His temple, Ling-Jiou Mountain Monastery, is in the mountains near Fulong Beach on Taiwan’s northeast coast. click here to see a photo of the Master.

They decided the ten religions based on…well, they won’t say, but they do say they asked some element of Harvard University (not sure which) to decide what should be in the museum. Or maybe they were only making recommendations–I can’t believe that Harvard recommended Avatamsaka World!

Whether Confucianism is a religion depends on what you think a religion is. It has an ideology, a founder, sacred scriptures, temples, priests, institutions, ceremonies, holidays, funny dresses, all kinds of religious-style flourishes. On the other hand it disclaims interest in the supernatural. So you decide–and before you answer, think about whether Soviet Communism or the Boy Scouts might qualify too!

Zoroastrianism is indeed one of the most important religions, despite being fairly small. The museum people would probably say that they could put it under “ancient religions” someday–in other words, fob them off with a temporary slot.

It’s true that the museum is not really pushing Buddhism, but they ARE pushing a feel-good but brain-dead form of ecumenicalism. It’s as much ideological as educational, since some “truths” about religion would be too diplomatically awkward to acknowledge in the form of an exhibit.