Confucianism as a World Religion: Contested Histories and Contemporary Realities

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Winner of the 2014 Best Book Award, Sociology of Religion Section of the American Sociological Association
Winner of the 2014 Best First Book in the History of Religions Award, American Academy of Religion
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2013

"[T]his admirable book presents a fascinating, well-researched, historical account of the establishment of Confucianism as a world religion in tandem with the emergence of comparative religion as a discipline. Sun's keen sense of history serves her equally well as she turns to contemporary issues. . . . This well written book is strongly recommended not only for China specialists, but also for anyone seeking to understand the world's creeds and rituals. . . . An outstanding book."Choice

"Confucianism as a World Religion is destined to become a classic, especially in Confucian studies and comparative religion. . . . [T]his text is likely to be very popular in graduate seminars on comparative religion, Confucianism, and the sociology of religion. More of an introduction to Confucianism may be necessary for a full understanding of what Sun is up to, but this book is certainly one of the most important English-language texts on Confucianism."—Andrew Stuart Abel, American Journal of Sociology

"Anna Sun's book makes an important contribution to the analysis of the contested claims about the meaning of Confucianism by boldly moving the site of this debate to actual conditions on the ground in contemporary China. Written in accessible, elegant prose, this book is well suited for courses on Chinese religion, Confucianism, or the emergence of World Religions as a discourse."—Thomas Wilson, Journal of Chinese Religions

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691155579
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 4/21/2013
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 266
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

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

Preface ix
Acknowledgments xvii
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
Notes 185
Bibliography 215
Index 233

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