Spiritism and Charisma

Caodaism from its Infancy


  • Christopher Hartney University of Sydney




Caodaism, Authority, Charismatic Leader


The Religion of Caodaism (Vietnam, 1926) began as a communal effort by a number of early believers who responded to what they believed to be definite instructions from heaven granted through various devices of mediumship both Eastern and Western in origin. Of these forms I will investigate and speculate upon how the process of séance can be spoken of, understood in this Vietnamese context and how various ways to manage it were devised and operated by Caodaists. It will be shown that a general inability to manage séance led to the development of numerous other Caodaist groupings in Vietnam. After a period of division during the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s, Tay Ninh Caodaism (the original “trunk” of Caodaism) continued to develop under the influence of the increasingly charismatic leader Pham Cong Tac. It will be argued that under the guiding influence of this man, Tay Ninh Caodaism developed politically, hierarchically and mystically as a separate entity from other variants of Caodaism and that these developments better facilitated Pham Cong Tac’s control of the organization through charismatic manifestations rather than séance-granted authority. As this shift takes place, I will show that there is a change of emphasis from the democratically organised Cuu Trung Dai, or administrative hierarchy of the faith, to the self-selecting Hiep Thien Dai, or branch of mediums. Furthermore, post 1945; the work of Pham Cong Tac changes the spiritual emphasis of Caodaism from a non-personal thaumaturgical authority to a prophetic charismatic authority. Although Tay Ninh Caodaism is seen to operate in this more pragmatic charismatic way, it continues to understand itself as a séance-based group.

Author Biography

Christopher Hartney, University of Sydney

Lecturer, Studies in Religion


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How to Cite

Hartney, C. (2008). Spiritism and Charisma: Caodaism from its Infancy. Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, 20(3), 334–356. https://doi.org/10.1558/arsr.v20i3.334