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The Modern Spirit of Asia

The Modern Spirit of Asia: The Spiritual and the Secular in China and India

Peter van der Veer
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 292
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  • Book Info
    The Modern Spirit of Asia
    Book Description:

    The Modern Spirit of Asia challenges the notion that modernity in China and India are derivative imitations of the West, arguing that these societies have transformed their ancient traditions in unique and distinctive ways. Peter van der Veer begins with nineteenth-century imperial history, exploring how Western concepts of spirituality, secularity, religion, and magic were used to translate the traditions of India and China. He traces how modern Western notions of religion and magic were incorporated into the respective nation-building projects of Chinese and Indian nationalist intellectuals, yet how modernity in China and India is by no means uniform. While religion is a centerpiece of Indian nationalism, it is viewed in China as an obstacle to progress that must be marginalized and controlled.

    The Modern Spirit of Asia moves deftly from Kandinsky's understanding of spirituality in art to Indian yoga and Chinese qi gong, from modern theories of secularism to histories of Christian conversion, from Orientalist constructions of religion to Chinese campaigns against magic and superstition, and from Muslim Kashmir to Muslim Xinjiang. Van der Veer, an outspoken proponent of the importance of comparative studies of religion and society, eloquently makes his case in this groundbreaking examination of the spiritual and the secular in China and India.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4855-3
    Subjects: Anthropology, History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-34)

    This book examines India and China and the ways in which they have been transformed by Western imperial modernity. In my understanding the onset of modernity is located in the nineteenth century and is characterized politically by the emergence of the nation-state, economically by industrialization, and ideologically by an emphasis on progress and liberation. What I call “imperial modernity” is the formation of modernity under conditions of imperialism. This is a study in comparative historical sociology, informed by anthropological theory. The field of comparative historical sociology of culture was founded by Max Weber and practiced by his followers, of whom...

  5. Chapter 2 Spirituality in Modern Society
    (pp. 35-62)

    In this chapter I show how the concept of spirituality moved from the West to India and China and how it functioned to connect different conceptual worlds. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the concept of spirituality had radical overtones, critical of imperialism and materialism, but also of established religion. This chapter begins with a discussion of the role of spirituality in the West. This includes the role of spirituality in anti-imperialist secularism, its role in the formation of modern abstract art, and its role in critiques of materialism. The chapter then moves to a discussion of spirituality in...

  6. Chapter 3 The Making of Oriental Religion
    (pp. 63-89)

    Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism are seen today as the religions of India and China. However, while they have existed as major traditions for a very long period, they were not “isms” or “religions” in the modern sense. As such they were invented or constructed in the nineteenth century.¹ While this is generally accepted in religious studies the implications are not always spelled out clearly. Is religion manufactured, invented, or constructed? And if it is constructed, is religion any different from other categories in social thought, such as society or economy? These are questions that engage the current generation of...

  7. Chapter 4 Conversion to Indian and Chinese Modernities
    (pp. 90-114)

    One of the most important aspects of the imperial encounter was the Christian missionary project. In the nineteenth century Protestants had joined Catholics in attempts to convert the heathen, but the context of that effort was the emergence of imperial modernity. This chapter will trace the missionary project in India and China in the nineteenth century, but will emphasize the imperial and anti-imperial aspects of it in contrast to the earlier Jesuit efforts in China and India. The main argument will be that Christian missionaries played an extraordinary role in setting things in motion in education and medicine, but most...

  8. Chapter 5 Secularism’s Magic
    (pp. 115-139)

    In this chapter I focus on the hidden “third” in discussions of the interaction between religion and secularism—namely, magic. The nineteenth-century Western distinction between religion and magic purports to “purify” religion from a large category of beliefs and practices that are seen as contrary to scientific knowledge. Religion becomes in that way a source of morality (individual, national, universal) that is in no way competing with scientific progress or hindering it. Magic, then, is a rest-category that is supposed to gradually disappear from secular modernity owing to literacy and general education. However, this story of “disenchantment” is constantly challenged...

  9. Chapter 6 “Smash Temples, Build Schools”: Comparing Secularism in India and China
    (pp. 140-167)

    The concept of secularism is not less elusive than that of religion, or spirituality, or magic, with which it forms a syntagmatic chain. Often it is unclear what is meant by “the secular.” At one level the term refers to the separation of state and church. This makes sense only in the West, where one has the Christian church. Even in the West, however, this separation takes different shapes in the United States, in Britain, in France, in Holland. In Asia religions are not organized in churches, and that simple fact already creates confusion about what is meant by “the...

  10. Chapter 7 The Spiritual Body
    (pp. 168-192)

    In the current phase of globalization there is a fast spread of forms of evangelical and charismatic Christianity as well as pietistic Islam. While much attention is given to the rise of these so-called fundamentalist forms of world religion, the globalization of Asian forms of spirituality has escaped analytical scrutiny. One reason for this is the false assumption that the spiritual is not political. Eastern spirituality is often perceived to transcend secular reality as well as the problems of institutionalized religion. In this chapter I will discuss a few Indian and Chinese instances of spirituality that are clearly political.


  11. Chapter 8 Muslims in India and China
    (pp. 193-213)

    The situation of Muslims in India is almost entirely different from that of Muslims in China. The idea that today prevails especially among students of international relations and politicians after the publication of Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations is that Islam as a civilization creates a unity in the history and sociology of Muslims all over the world.¹ The history of nationalist warfare between Muslim nations and that of endemic conflicts within Muslim nations defies such a notion. One of the best examples is the breaking away of Bangladesh from the Muslim nation of Pakistan in 1971 on grounds of...

  12. Chapter 9 Conclusion
    (pp. 214-230)

    This book has made a case for the comparison of the social location of religion, spirituality, magic, and secularity in India and China. Such a comparison shows the differential impact of Western imperialism on India and China. Of course Indian and Chinese societies have deep histories, and these histories have resulted in fundamental differences, but in both cases modernity has been mediated by imperialism. In these two cases the nature of imperial interactions was quite different. India was colonized for a century, while China was under imperial pressure but not made into a colony. Being run by a British state...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 231-252)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-270)
  15. Index
    (pp. 271-282)