Thursday, May 9, 2013

Anna Sun's "Confucianism as a World Religion"

Anna Sun is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Asian Studies at Kenyon College.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Confucianism as a World Religion: Contested Histories and Contemporary Realities, and reported the following:
What an intriguing idea to make books take the “Page 99 Test”! I opened my book to page 99, and what I found is a section entitled “Confucianism as a World Religion in Today’s Popular Books and Textbooks.” Indeed, if you have ever heard about Confucianism, you probably already know that it is one of the “great world religions.” On page 99 I show that the majority of popular books on world religions today, such as the best-selling ones on, include Confucianism.

But as a matter of fact, most Chinese people do not consider Confucianism a religion. Ask a Chinese friend you know, and see how the person answers the question. Your friend might begin by saying: “Well, it is not! But it is complicated. Where should I start?” For instance, Confucianism is not included in the Chinese government official classification of the “Five Major Religions” of China, which includes Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism.

Why this discrepancy? Whose knowledge can we trust in our search for the answer to the question “Is Confucianism a world Religion”? For me, the research was almost like a detective story. It first took me back in time to late nineteenth century Oxford, where the new academic discipline of comparative religion emerged at the same time the new discourse of world religions was being invented. It was Friedrich Max Müller, a founder of comparative religion, and James Legge, a former Scottish missionary to China, who first cast Confucianism as a world religion in the larger context of colonial knowledge production about the East.

But is Confucianism a religion in China today? My research then led me to Confucius temples around China, where I observed the fascinating recent revival of Confucian rituals. The Chinese government has been consciously promoting Confucianism in the past ten years, staging ceremonies honoring Confucius as well as using his name for the ever-expanding fleet of Chinese language institutions abroad, the Confucius Institutes. What will be the future of the Confucianism? We are the ones who are now witnessing its thrilling developments and transformations.
Learn more about Confucianism as a World Religion at Anna Sun’s website.

--Marshal Zeringue