Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Lighter Fare III

(from the sacred to the profane)

February 20, 2008 Posted by | Confucius | 2 comments

Reverence, the Spiritual, and the Sacred in Confucianism

These themes seem to have come up in a few different posts, so I thought we might try to tie together some of the strands. I know it’s asking for a lot, but is there any way to get some clarity on how these concepts operate within the history of Confucianism?

I’m assuming there is some close network of meaning within which each of these can be used to understand each of the others–e.g. “the sacred” is something that calls for reverence; reverence is to be distinguished from a purely socially understood concept of respect because reverence is tied to value of a spiritual sort; and so forth.

[Brief digression: I’m sure many of you know more about Durkheim than I, but it seems like “the sacred” is some sort of indefinable, basic concept on his view; I’ve never found that very helpful (someone correct me, please, if I’m totally misreading Durkheim). I only bring Durkheim up because of Fingarette’s clear use of Durkheim’s template in allowing that “the secular” (as opposed to “the profane”) could be part of the sacred–Fingarette’s book on Confucius is called Confucius: the Secular as Sacred, for those who might not know.]

I think if we look at the instances of jing 敬 in the Analects, Mencius, Liji, and other pre-Buddhist texts, it seems to me like it could easily be translated as “respectfulness” rather than “reverence.” I think the main question, whether it is about translating jing or understanding the junzi’s pursuits as in some sense spiritual, is going to be about what the larger template of analysis is that makes the texts “speak to” spiritual or sacred concerns. I think I can see what that template is for understanding the neo-Confucians in that way: reaction to and partial assimilation of Buddhist concerns that are more clearly driven by soteriological goals. I’m not sure what the template should be for the early Confucians–despite having read Fingarette more than a few times. And I don’t know as much as I should about the New Confucians to understand how they would see themselves addressing issues of reverence, the spiritual, or the sacred.

Well, that’s what I’ll start with. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from responses to this post.

February 20, 2008 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Confucianism, Confucius, Religion | 13 comments