“Religion” is a Western concept, borrowed into East Asia less than two centuries ago. While it is often assumed that Western-like religions exist in all societies, this assumption is questionable. If we consider religion as a phenomenon that necessarily involves a church hierarchy, written scriptures, dogmatic beliefs and a liturgical tradition, we will not find any such religion in many societies, including ancient China. As an alternative, we can see religion as a set of interconnected social practices that vary across cultures. By examining these practices one by one, it is possible to develop a more nuanced view on the history of religion, and a better way to compare religious practices across societies.
In this course, we will examine the history of the different social practices related to “religion” in ancient and medieval China. We will examine the connection between these practices and the institutions of state power, literary traditions, scientific and philosophical thought and family structures. Students will familiarize themselves with recent theoretical works in English and Chinese and learn to analyze religious practices in a critical way. They will enrich their understanding of the history of ancient and medieval China and acquire useful knowledge about the history of religions in other parts of the world.