PhD Candidate Sociocultural Anthropology

Matriculated September 2016

Research Interests

Taiwan; popular religion; social change; democratization; practice-based approaches; contemporary trickster figures; humor; memes as genre of communication



In my dissertation, I ask an age-old question: Why do people often not seem to notice social change? When do they actually notice that things—practices, relationships, ideas—are changing, and what happens then?

In 2017 and 2019—20 I spent nineteen months in an environment that is constantly changing: Traditional religious practices in Taiwan. And yet, many people in Taiwan as well as respected scholars abroad argue that popular religious practices provide the building blocks for things to stay the same. Allegedly, these practices sustain patriarchy and hierarchy in society. During fieldwork, I studied a deafeningly loud style of traditional music with Taipei’s oldest Pak-koan music troupe, I walked several pilgrimages in honor of Taiwan’s patron goddess, Mazu, and I learned the DIY methods of a newly founded religious group whose members produce all of their ritual devices on their own. What I gathered from all these contexts is that the younger generations of Taiwanese—those under 40—change religious practices in a way that undermines the conservative-patriarchal model and instead democratizes personal relationships as well as organizational structures.

From a previous life, I hold an MA in Chinese Studies and Religious Studies from the University of Leipzig (Germany). My MA thesis was published in German in 2014 (the title translates as “Mazu’s New Home: Interpretations and Institutions of a Chinese Goddess in Taiwan”); it deals with the intertwinement of popular religion and politics at local and national levels, and traces how the popular deity Mazu became a patron deity of Taiwan’s democracy.

Outside of all this academic stuff, I enjoy football—err, agonize over it, more like; in any event it’s the kind you play with your heart as well as your feet, but certainly not your hands (who would take a football into their hands and run with it??). I suffer a style of music called ‘skramz’ (aka Euro-Screamo) that to most people is just noise and regularly go back to reading Franz Kafka and Hermann Hesse, sprinkled with some Arundhati Roy on top.

Favorite ethnography right now: Teri Silvio, Puppets, Gods, and Brands: Theorizing the Age of Animation from Taiwan.

Awards & Grants

  • Department of Anthropology Summer Research Grant. $583. (Summer 2023).
  • Cora du Bois Fellowship. $15,500. (2022, using Spring 2023).
  • European Association of Taiwan Studies and East Asian Journal of Popular Culture Choice Award for Originality and Innovation for “Panmemic Inoculation,” US$ 450 (2022). 
  • CURA Colloquium Fellow, “Religion & Authoritarianism” (2022-2023). 
  • Boston University Institute on Culture, Religion & World Affairs Fellowship, US$ 1,000. (2022). 
  • Department of Anthropology Summer Research Grant. $1000. (2022).
  • National Cheng-chi University Lo Chia-luen International Sinology Scholarship, 6 months Taiwan, NT$ 300,000 >> US$ 10,760. (Awarded 2020, deferred to 2023). 
  • National Central Library Center for Chinese Studies Fellowship, 4 months; NT$ 160,000 >> US$ 5,804. (Awarded 2020, DECLINED). 
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs Taiwan Fellowship, 9 months; NT$ 450,000 >> US$ 16,143. (2019).
  • Boston University Long-term (GRAF) Graduate Research Abroad Fellowship, 6 months, US$ 10,300. (2019). 
  • Templeton Global Religion Research Initiative Project Launch Grant, 3 months, US$ 9,730. (2019). 
  • Department of Anthropology Summer Research Grant. $800. (2018).
  • National Central Library Center for Chinese Studies Fellowship, 3 months, NT$ 120,000 >> US$ 4,305. (2017). 
  • Boston University Dean’s Fellowship (Fall 2016, Spring 2016, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021).


Peer-reviewed journal articles: 

  • J.F. Tischer (2022) “Panmemic Inoculation: How Taiwan is Nerfing the Pandemic with Cute Humour.” East Asian Journal of Popular Culture 8(2), 183-204. DOI:
  • J.F. Tischer (2021) “The Invisible Hand of the Temple (Manager): Gangsters, Political Power, and Transfers of Spiritual Capital in Taiwan’s Mazu Pilgrimages.” Review of Religion and Chinese Society, 8(1), 61-91. DOI:
  • J.F. Tischer (2018) “Mazu Nation: Pilgrimages, Political Practice, and the Ritual Construction of National Space in Taiwan.” Global Politics Review 4(2), 6-28. (open access). 

Accepted Book chapters: 

  • J.F. Tischer “Masked Presence: COVID-19 and Remembering SARS in Taiwan.” In Media Narratives During the Coronavirus Pandemic, edited by Shubhda Arora and Keval J. Kumar, to be published by Routledge in 2022.
  • J.F. Tischer “Religion and Taiwanese Identity.” In Encyclopedia of Taiwan Studies, edited by Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao, to be published by Brill in 2022.