DER Documentary

The Left Eye of God: Caodaism Travels from Vietnam to California

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by Janet Hoskins and Susan Hoskins
color, 58 min, 2008

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Caodaists worship the left eye as an Asian synthesis of eastern and western traditions. In this film, they tell their stories of exile, anti-colonial struggle, and building immigrant congregations in California. Footage of rituals and temples, and archival images combine to provide a personal perspective on a largely unknown mystical tradition. Older religious leaders tell how this new faith emerged in colonial Saigon in the 1920s and was soon followed by one in four people in southern Vietnam.

Incorporating European figures like Victor Hugo and Jeanne d'Arc, Caodaists tried to heal the wounds of colonialism, but suffered persecution from the French, the Diem government, and the communists. After 1975, new spirit mediums in California developed an innovative style of worship for a generation of followers facing the challenges of the American context and newly re-opened contact with religious centers in Vietnam. How independent can California congregations be from sacred authorities in the homeland?

A more complete analysis of the changing worlds of Vietnamese Caodaists can be found in "Caodai Exile and Redemption: A New Vietnamese Religion's Struggle for Identity" in Religion and Social Justice for Immigrants, Rutgers University Press 2006: p. 191-210, and in the Material Religion journal article "Seeing Syncretism as Visual Blasphemy: Critical Eyes on Caodai Religious Architecture" 2010 6(1).

“(The Left Eye of God) is a brilliant exploration into an immigrant community from Vietnam... an in-depth historical look at a Vietnamese cultural experience and its extensions to the United States... As a premier ethno-historical film about Vietnam bearing weight on its cultural integrity, it beautifully traces an incipient, and yet spreading belief system - for the most part unknown in the West.” — David Blundell, Ph.D., Associate Professor, UCLA
“I would certainly show this film in my Asian studies courses, and I would also recommend it to my colleagues in other departments (e.g. anthropology, Asian American studies). ” — Shawn McHale, Director of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies, and Associate Professor of History and International Affairs, The George Washington University

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
XIX International Festival of Ethnological Film, Belgrade, Serbia, 2010

Related Resources
"Exploring Religious Identities in a New Land", an interview with Professor Janet Hoskins: here
Anthropology Review Database's review of the film by Jack David Eller

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