God Making in China
Notes Toward a Theory of Deification
Keywords:Deification, Divinization, China, Frederick Lenz, Li Hongzhi, li hongzhi, new religions, Falun Gong, apotheosis
Some religious leaders tend to gravitate towards claims of increasingly greater holiness. This sometimes results in the assumption of explicitly prophetic roles or in more extreme cases, claims of divinity. The present paper discusses the apotheosis of Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Gong. Although a comprehensive theory of divinization remains elusive, some general points can be made. First, we argue that any effort to theorize deification must include the observation that it is a process that arises in the context of social interaction between leader and followers rather than exclusively within the psyche of the leader, a point which has sometimes been missed in previous analyses. Second, divinization is a gradual process, with claims of divinity typically being amplified over time. Third, one must consider that divinization typically takes place within social spaces more or less set apart from the larger society, with group dynamics that facilitate deification. Fourth, divinization can be a strategy for coping with external threats like critical outsiders and repression. Finally, we argue that any effort to understand deification needs to consider the wider cultural and religious context. ‘God’ is a polythetic term, and divinization may therefore take on many different forms.
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