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Confucianism as a World Religion: Contested Histories and Contemporary Realitiesby Anna Sun
Synopses & Reviews
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 Religion will engage all those interested in religion and global politics at the beginning of the Chinese century.
"This brilliant new book tells us how Confucianism became a world religion, and shows us how Western and Chinese scholars--responding to thousands of years of history and the pressures of the modern world--have understood this idea,d which is still very much in contest in today's China. This book is not only for those interested in East Asia, but for all who are trying to make sense of the world's great traditions."--Robert N. Bellah, author of Religion in Human Evolution
"I've often been asked if Confucianism is a religion and I could never give a clear answer. Now I know what to say: just read this book!"--Daniel A. Bell, Jiaotong University and Tsinghua University
"This exciting book deals with an exceedingly interesting, important, and timely topic--the curious history and ongoing cultural dynamics of Confucianism and its relation to the contested category of 'religion.' With China looming large economically, culturally, and geopolitically, the issue of a revived Confucianism as a crucial aspect of China's new post-Maoist cultural nationalism is fascinating."--Norman Girardot, Lehigh University
"The century-old question of Confucianism as a religion has aroused new and intense debates in China. Sun provides a revealing account of the history of the comparative religion field that intellectually constructed Confucianism as one of the world religions, and she looks at historical and contemporary developments. The archival research of this book is meticulous and sound."--Fenggang Yang, Purdue University
About the Author
Anna Sun is assistant professor of sociology and Asian studies at Kenyon College.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Confusions over Confucianism 1
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 17
Chapter 2: The Making of a World Religion: Confucianism and the Emergence of Comparative Religion as a Discipline in the Nineteenth Century 45
Chapter 3: The Confucianism as a Religion Controversy in Contemporary China 77
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 97
Chapter 5: Counting Confucians through Social Scientific Research 110
Chapter 6: To Become a Confucian: A New Conceptual Framework 120
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 137
Chapter 8: The Contemporary Revival and Reinvention of Confucian Ritual Practices 153
Chapter 9: The Politics of the Future of Confucianism 173
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