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The Dysfunction of Ritual in Early Confucianism

Overview

In The Dysfunction of Ritual in Early Confucianism Michael Ing describes how early Confucians coped with situations where their rituals failed to achieve their intended aims. In contrast to most contemporary interpreters of Confucianism, Ing demonstrates that early Confucian texts can be read as arguments for ambiguity in ritual failure. If, as discussed in one text, Confucius builds a tomb for his parents unlike the tombs of antiquity, and rains fall causing the tomb to collapse, it is not immediately clear ...

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Overview

In The Dysfunction of Ritual in Early Confucianism Michael Ing describes how early Confucians coped with situations where their rituals failed to achieve their intended aims. In contrast to most contemporary interpreters of Confucianism, Ing demonstrates that early Confucian texts can be read as arguments for ambiguity in ritual failure. If, as discussed in one text, Confucius builds a tomb for his parents unlike the tombs of antiquity, and rains fall causing the tomb to collapse, it is not immediately clear whether this failure was the result of random misfortune or the result of Confucius straying from the ritual script by building a tomb incongruent with those of antiquity.

The Liji (Record of Ritual)—one of the most significant, yet least studied, texts of Confucianism—poses many of these situations and suggests that the line between preventable and unpreventable failures of ritual is not always clear. Ritual performance, in this view, is a performance of risk. It entails rendering oneself vulnerable to the agency of others; and resigning oneself to the need to vary from the successful rituals of past, thereby moving into untested and uncertain territory. Ing's book is the first monograph in English about the Liji—a text that purports to be the writings of Confucius's immediate disciples, and included in the earliest canon of Confucian texts called ''The Five Classics,'' several centuries before the Analects. It challenges some common assumptions of contemporary interpreters of Confucian ethics—in particular the idea that a cultivated ritual agent is able to recognize which failures are within his sphere of control to prevent and thereby render his happiness invulnerable to ritual failure.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The Dysfunction of Ritual in Early Confucianism brings readers into the intricacies of the text of the Liji. Michael Ing respects the diversity of perspectives in the text while paying close attention to the ways that its authors shared a central concern with failures in ritual practice."—New Book in East Asian Studies

"Ing's work is simply brilliant! He has brought both the right text and the right method to bear on the central question of the religious nature of the Confucian tradition. By focusing upon the Liji with its probing account of ritual performance and meaning and by applying the method and theory of religious studies, Ing has been able to probe the depths of religious meaning within the Confucian context specifically and larger Chinese context more generally."—Rodney L. Taylor, Professor of Religious Studies, University of Colorado at Boulder

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199924912
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 10/24/2012
  • Series: Oxford Ritual Studies Series
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael David Kaulana Ing is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University.

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Table of Contents

Conventions
Introduction
Chapter One: Ritual in the Liji
Chapter Two: A Typology of Dysfunction
Chapter Three: Coming to Terms with Dysfunction
Chapter Four: Preventing
Chapter Five: The Inevitability of Failure
Chapter Six: Whose Fault is Failure? Ambiguity and Impinging Agencies
Chapter Seven: The Ancients did not Fix Their Graves
Chapter Eight: Productive Anxieties and the Awfulness of Failed Ritual
Concluding Reflections: Toward a Tragic Theory of Ritual
Appendix: On the Textual Composition of the Liji
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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