Neither A Church, Nor A Temple, Nor A Mosque

From the Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views

No. 130 Interior Chinese Joss House, San Francisco, Cal. Date and photographer unknown. Source: New York Public Library’s Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views

In Chapter 3 of the “sociological overview” Religions in Asian America, entitled “Religious Diversity Among the Chinese in America,” Fenggang Yang writes about the history of overseas Chinese “joss houses.”

Yang quotes an American, Charles Caldwell Dobie, who visited San Francisco’s joss houses in 1936:

It is hard to define a Joss House in Occidental terms. It is neither a church, nor a temple, nor a mosque. But it could easily have elements of all three. A Joss House is not a thing of sect and dogma. It is, to quote the Chinese themselves, simply a “place of worship.” Into it may be poured any and all [of] the religious faiths and influences that the Chinese have absorbed and modified in the sixty [sic] centuries of their civilization. (79)

By the way, etymology of the word “joss.”

3 responses to “Neither A Church, Nor A Temple, Nor A Mosque

  • Aldrin

    That’s amazing (and the etymology, too–I knew it!). I’m not aware of any “joss houses” in the Philippines, but it isn’t uncommon to see Catholics here praying for good luck in a Buddhist or Taoist temple.


      I think that Americans would probably have called those Buddhist and Taoist temples “joss houses” back in the early 1900s and late 1800s. I prefer “temple” to “joss house,” myself.

      And that’s cool that you’ve seen Catholics pray at Chinese temples! 🙂

      • Aldrin

        Oh yeah, especially on New Year’s. Manila is a very “Mestizo” city. You’ll find everyone on the streets on the eve of the Lunar New Year doing their shopping of lucky charms and nian gao. Well, unless you’re Protestant. Ha!

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