Special Journal Issue on Tradition, Ritual, and Heaven

Special Issue of the European Journal For Philosophy of Religion: Tradition, Ritual, and Heaven in East Asian Religious Philosophy

Guest Editor: Philip J. Ivanhoe




This special issue of the European Journal for Philosophy of Religion is dedicated to introducing major figures, ideas, and arguments from East Asian religious philosophy in ways that promote productive conversations with the broader field of philosophy of religion. …

Erin M. CLINE, The Highways and Byways of Ritual: Pascal and Xunzi on Faith, Virtue, and Religious Practice

Abstract. Blaise Pascal contends that ritual is not simply an expression of religious faith; it is also the means by which religious faith is cultivated. While Pascal fails to offer a plausible account of how ritual can lead to faith, the classical Confucian philosopher Xunzi’s account of ritual – especially his account of how rituals shape a person’s character and how one comes to “acquire a taste” for the things that rituals achieve – is a helpful resource for extending and refining Pascal’s account of how ritual works to transform not just our actions but our feelings, desires, and beliefs, as well.

Richard T. KIM, Confucianism and Non-human Animal Sacrifice

Abstract. In this paper, I argue that the use of non-human animals in ritual sacrifices is not necessary for the Confucian tradition. I draw upon resources found within other religious traditions as well as Confucianism concerning carrying out even the most mundane, ordinary actions as expressions of reverence. I argue that this practice of manifesting deep reverence toward God (or deities and ancestors in the case of Confucianism) through simple actions, which I call everyday reverence, reveals a way for Confucians to maintain the deep reverence that is essential for Confucianism, while abandoning the use of non-human animal sacrifice.

Youngsun BACK, Confucian Heaven: Moral Economy and Contingency

Abstract. This paper examines the Confucian concept of tian, conventionally translated into English as “Heaven.” The secondary literature on tian has primarily focused on the question of what tian is: e.g., whether tian is an anthropomorphic deity or a naturalistic force, or whether tian is transcendent or immanent. Instead, this paper locates tian with respect to the ethical life of human beings, and argues that the two conflicting concepts of “moral economy” and “contingency” are main characteristics of tian. This paper further investigates these characteristics in Kongzi’s and Mengzi’s ethical thought: how they conceptualized moral economy and contingency, and how their different conceptualizations shaped their respective ethical programs: Kongzi’s ethics of faith and Mengzi’s ethics of confidence.

Mark T. UNNO, Inverse Correlation: Comparative Philosophy in an Upside Down World

Abstract. Kitaro Nishida introduces the concept of “inverse correlation” (Jp. gyakutaio) in his final work, The Logic of Place and the Religious Worldview, which he uses to illuminate the relation between finite and infinite, human and divine/buddha, such that the greater the realization of human limitation and finitude, the greater that of the limitless, infinite divine or buddhahood. This essay explores the applicability of the logic and rhetoric of inverse correlation in the cases of the early Daoist Zhuangzi, medieval Japanese Buddhist Shinran, and modern Protestant Christian Kierkegaard, as well as broader ramifications for contemporary philosophy of religion.

Aaron STALNAKER, In Defense of Ritual Propriety

Abstract. Confucians think ritual propriety is extremely important, but this commitment perplexes many Western readers. This essay outlines the early Confucian Xúnzi’s defense of ritual, then offers a modified defense of ritual propriety as a real virtue, of value to human beings in all times and places, albeit one that is inescapably indexed to prevailing social norms in a non-objectionable way. The paper addresses five likely objections to this thesis, drawing on but going beyond recent Kantian defenses of courtesy and civility. The objections concern cultural relativity, insincerity, separating style from substance, elitism, and possible incoherence in the virtue itself.

Joseph ADLER, Chance and Necessity in Zhu Xi’s Conceptions of Heaven and Tradition

Abstract. Discussion of the relationship between chance and necessity in the West goes back at least to Democritus in the fifth century BCE, and was highlighted again in the twentieth century by Jacques Monod in Chance and Necessity. Monod contrasted “teleonomic” (directional but not directed) biological evolution with “teleologic” (purpose-driven) Biblical theology. This article uses that distinction in examining Zhu Xi’s concepts of Heaven (in particular the “mandate” or “givenness” of Heaven) and tradition (focusing on the normative Confucian tradition, the “succession of the Way” or daotong). The result sheds light on the unique combination of rationality and transcendence in Neo-Confucian thought.

Ronnie LITTLEJOHN, For Heaven’s Sake: Tian in Daoist Religious Thought

Abstract. This essay is an overview of the role of Heaven in Daoist religious thought prior to the Tang Dynasty. Lao-Zhuang teachings portray Heaven as helper of the perfected person, who has parted with the human and thereby evinces a heavenly light. The Huainanzi compares possessing Heaven’s Heart to leaning on an unbudgeable pillar and drawing on an inexhaustible storehouse, enabling one to shed mere humanity as a snake discards its skin. The Heguanzi homologizes Heaven and Taiyi and by the Six Dynasties period some Daoist canonical sources give the face of Laojun to Heaven/Taiyi, increasing the anthropomorphization of Heaven.

Brad COKELET, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Virtue Ethics

Abstract. Are Confucian and Buddhist ethical views closer to Kantian, Consequentialist, or Virtue Ethical ones? How can such comparisons shed light on the unique aspects of Confucian and Buddhist views? Oriented by these questions, this essay tackles three tasks: provides a historically grounded framework for distinguishing western ethical theories, identifies a series of questions that we can ask in order to clarify the philosophic accounts of ethical motivation embedded in the Buddhist and Confucian traditions, and critiques Lee Ming-huei’s claim that Confucianism is closer to Kantianism than virtue ethics and Charles Goodman’s claim that Buddhism is closer to Consequentialism than Virtue Ethics.

Philip J. IVANHOE, Jeong Dasan’s Interpretation of Mengzi: Heaven, Way, Human Nature, and the Human Heart-mind

Abstract. This essay offers an introduction to Jeong Yakyong’s (Dasan’s) ethical philosophy as revealed by his commentary on the Mengzi. Following Mengzi, Dasan insisted that the Confucian Way was grounded in the will of Heaven but looked back to early views about the Lord on High and described ethical life in terms of an everyday, natural order decreed by the Lord on High. Not only did he see a wide range of human emotions as indispensable and central to the good life, he also insisted that Heaven and the Way must be understood in terms of their manifestations in this world.

Anna ABRAM, ‘The Maxim of the Moon’ and the Lived Experience of Religious Belief: An Ethical Revision of Thornhill-Miller’s and Millican’s Second Order Religion

Branden Thornhill-Miller and Peter Millican have provided us with a fine dialogical study of rational religious belief and its limits. They argue that unavailability of conclusive evidence of perceived supernatural agency and contradictions between various religious belief systems render all religious traditions irrational. However, they also recognise that empirical research shows that religious belief may in some cases have beneficial individual and social effects, therefore they put forward a hypothesis of a ‘second-order religious belief’ which would be rational, because it would rely one the Fine-Tuning Argument alone and would not be bound by the orthodoxies of any specific religious tradition.

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