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Confucianism as a World Religion

Confucianism as a World Religion: Contested Histories and Contemporary Realities

Anna Sun
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Confucianism as a World Religion
    Book Description:

    Is Confucianism a religion? If so, why do most Chinese think it isn't? From ancient Confucian temples, to nineteenth-century archives, to the testimony of people interviewed by the author throughout China over a period of more than a decade, this book traces the birth and growth of the idea of Confucianism as a world religion.

    The book begins at Oxford, in the late nineteenth century, when Friedrich Max Müller and James Legge classified Confucianism as a world religion in the new discourse of "world religions" and the emerging discipline of comparative religion. Anna Sun shows how that decisive moment continues to influence the understanding of Confucianism in the contemporary world, not only in the West but also in China, where the politics of Confucianism has become important to the present regime in a time of transition. Contested histories of Confucianism are vital signs of social and political change.

    Sun also examines the revival of Confucianism in contemporary China and the social significance of the ritual practice of Confucian temples. While the Chinese government turns to Confucianism to justify its political agenda, Confucian activists have started a movement to turn Confucianism into a religion. Confucianism as a world religion might have begun as a scholarly construction, but are we witnessing its transformation into a social and political reality?

    With historical analysis, extensive research, and thoughtful reflection,Confucianism as a World Religionwill engage all those interested in religion and global politics at the beginning of the Chinese century.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4608-5
    Subjects: Religion, History, Political Science, Philosophy, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xix)
  5. Introduction Confusions over Confucianism
    (pp. 1-14)

    The problem I set out to solve in this book is the confusions and controversies over the religious nature of Confucianism. Although Confucianism has long been commonly accepted as one of the major world religions in our popular imagination, and portrayed as the most important religion of China in introductory textbooks on world religions, it might come as a surprise to many that it is neither considered a religion by most people in China nor counted as a religion by the Chinese government. In fact, Confucianism is not included in the Chinese official classification of the Five Major Religions, which...

  6. PART I The Puzzle of Classification:: How Did Confucianism Become a World Religion?

    • CHAPTER 1 Four Controversies over the Religious Nature of Confucianism A Brief History of Confucianism
      (pp. 17-44)

      According to the archaeologist Lothar von Falkenhausen, the “age of Confucius” started five hundred years before Confucius’s birth and lasted till the end of China’s great Late Bronze Age (ca. 1000–250 BCE).¹ This coincided with the Zhou dynasty (ca. 1046–256 BCE), the longest dynasty in Chinese history. Von Falkenhausen suggests that it was during this “age of Confucius” that the foundation of Confucianism was established. The so-called Five Classics were written during this period—theOdes, Documents, Rites, Changes, andSpring and Autumn Annals—which later became part of the Confucian classical canon. It was also during this...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Making of a World Religion Confucianism and the Emergence of Comparative Religion as a Discipline in the Nineteenth Century
      (pp. 45-76)

      Since the end of the nineteenth century Confucianism has been considered by many to be one of the major world religions, and the place of Confucianism in the world religions paradigm today has been institutionalized through academic and popular texts, academic curricula, as well as scholarly departments and associations. How did this happen, after the turbulent history of the Chinese Rites and Term Controversy? When Legge followed Ricci’s accommodation rules and pronounced that one should translate the termshang-tiin Chinese classics into “God” at the 1877 Shanghai Missionary Conference, his paper was excluded from the official proceedings.¹

      It was...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Confucianism as a Religion Controversy in Contemporary China
      (pp. 77-94)

      There are essentially three positions concerning Confucianism as a religion in China since 1949, the beginning of the socialist state: (1) Confucian is not a religion; (2) Confucianism is a religion, and as such has a negative impact, for religion itself is intrinsically a negative force in society; (3) Confucianism is a religion, and it has a positive or neutral impact, for religion is either a positive force in society or a neutral one. The first position is easy to distinguish, but the other two are often conflated with each other, for they differ only in their value judgments. In...

  7. PART II The Problem of Methodology:: Who Are the Confucians in China?

    • CHAPTER 4 Confucianism as a World Religion The Legitimation of a New Paradigm
      (pp. 97-109)

      Since the turn of the twentieth century, the classification of Confucianism as a world religion, which originated in Max Müller’sSacred Books of the Eastseries, has been accepted by generations of comparative religion scholars as well as scholars in related fields in the humanities and social sciences. Among social scientists, the most significant early adherent of this framework was Max Weber, who adopted the classification of world religions for what he called his “sociology of world religions” project. In his essay “The Social Psychology of World Religions” (1913–15), he explained his approach:

      By “world religions,” we understand the...

    • CHAPTER 5 Counting Confucians through Social Scientific Research
      (pp. 110-119)

      In this chapter I examine different types of empirical data—national censuses as well as various surveys—from Mainland China, as well as from Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea, in order to answer the following two questions: (1) whether “Confucianism” is a category in religious classifications in these East Asian countries and regions and (2) whether we know how many people are counted as “Confucians” in China. I hope this investigation will establish a dialogue about the empirical classification of Confucianism and its implications, as well as the complex social meanings of being a Confucian in contemporary life.¹

      Social scientists...

    • CHAPTER 6 To Become a Confucian A New Conceptual Framework
      (pp. 120-134)

      Very often the idea of conversion brings to mind passionate experiences of religious awakenings and radical transformations of individual lives, as well as large-scale transformations of societies—both peaceful transitions and fervent clashes—throughout history. In her introduction to the edited volumeThe Anthropology of Religious Conversion, Diane Austin-Broos describes conversion as a fundamental change in one’s worldview: “To be converted is to reidentify, to learn, reorder, and reorient.”¹ And William James famously formulates the experience of conversion in the following way:

      To be converted, to be regenerated, to receive grace, to experience religion, to gain an assurance, are so...

  8. Part III The Reality of Practices:: Is Confucianism a Religion in China Today?

    • CHAPTER 7 The Emerging Voices of Women in the Revival of Confucianism
      (pp. 137-152)

      It has been difficult for scholars of Confucianism to handle the only direct reference to women in theAnalects: “Women and small people are hard to deal with” (Analects, 17.25).¹ For two thousand years, Confucianism has been known to be a tradition of patriarchal domination, with the male authorities—the ruler in imperial China (tianzi, literally meaning “the son of heaven”), the father in the household, and the husband in the marriage—holding indisputable power over women.

      Has this really been the case? In recent years, this preconceived notion that Confucianism is inherently patriarchal has been challenged by a growing...

    • CHAPTER 8 The Contemporary Revival and Reinvention of Confucian Ritual Practices
      (pp. 153-172)

      The focus of this chapter is the personal rites performed in Confucius temples (kongmao or wenmiao) in different regions of China. In addition, I also briefly discuss the revival of graveside ancestral worship and certain Confucian social rituals. My primary methods are ethnographical, involving interviews and participant observations at Confucius temples. I have conducted interviews with visitors to a dozen Confucius temples in Mainland China, focusing on several regions: north (four temples in Beijing, Tianjin, Jinan, and Qufu), south (five temples in the historically literati Jiangnan region), southwest (three temples in Sichuan Province), and southeast (the ancestral temple complex in...

    • CHAPTER 9 The Politics of the Future of Confucianism
      (pp. 173-184)

      Here are three snapshots of recent events related to Confucianism that might hold the key to our understanding of the future of Confucianism in China.

      The first snapshot is the latest edition of theAnnual Report on China’s Religions(2010). It is published annually by the prestigious Social Sciences Academic Press as part of an official series on the state of religion in China. Here is what the “Table of Contents” page presents:

      Reports on the Major Religions:

      The Development of Buddhism and Its Dilemma in a Commercial Age

      Chinese Taoist Culture and Education in 2009

      A Survey of Chinese...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 185-214)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 215-232)
  11. Index
    (pp. 233-244)