Warp, Weft, and Way

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

New Book: Anna Sun, Confucianism as a World Religion

Sun_coverExciting news: Anna Sun (Kenyon College)’s book on Confucianism has been published. Congratulations!

Confucianism as a World Religion: Contested Histories and Contemporary Realities

Anna Sun

Princeton University Press | Cloth | 2013 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691155579 | 266 pp. | 6 x 9 | 1 line illus. 9 tables

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.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.

Sun also examines the revival of Confucianism in China today 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.

Anna Sun is assistant professor of sociology and Asian studies at Kenyon College.

Endorsement:

“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

April 6th, 2013 Posted by | Books of Interest, Confucianism, Religion | 3 comments

3 Responses to New Book: Anna Sun, Confucianism as a World Religion

  1. Andrew Komasinski says:

    Sounds very interesting! I look forward to reading this book when time arises.

  2. Bill Haines says:

    Sounds like a very good and important book.

    The material in the post seems regard the phrases ‘religion’ and ‘world religion’ as equivalent. From what I see in Amazon I can’t tell whether the book takes notice of a distinction. I guess the primary and almost the only use of the phrase ‘world religion’ is as a label for certain kinds of gen ed course, so that the question of the meaning of the distinction is a question about the proper content and marketing of that sort of gen ed course. Is that right?

    1) “World Religions” – one might mean that course title in such a way that the function of the word ‘world’ is to clarify the geographical breadth of the survey. In that case, to speak of any one of the religions as “a world religion” would be to misunderstand the phrase.

    2) Or by “World Religions” one might mean “religions of significance for an overview of the world,” so that a religion could qualify as a “world religion” even if it were limited in principle to a certain family, so long as they were very large and powerful.

    If the phrase began with meaning (1) only, one would expect it to take on meaning (2) soon, because survey courses must be selective.

    3) Or one might mean religions whose adherents are widely distributed geographically. That family religion might qualify, depending on where the members live.

    4) Or one might mean religions that pass tests (2) and (3) and are also in some sense open to anyone.

    The relative importance of (2) and (4) for how we should undertake to take the phrase depends, I suppose, on the purposes such courses should serve.

    (If I thought that the term ‘Confucianism’ and the term ‘religion’ each had associated with it some concept OR reference such that “Is Confucianism a religion?” articulates a question, then I would also think that)

    it goes without saying that Confucianism is of significance for an overview of the world, and that therefore, on analysis (2): the question whether Confucianism is a world religion is not interestingly different from the question whether Confucianism is a religion.

    • Steve Angle says:

      Hi Bill, The Princeton University Press site that I linked to gives you access to a pdf of the book’s Introduction, which goes some way toward answering your question. Anna there contextualizes “world religion” as a category that emerged in the 19th-century growth of comparative religions discourse.

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