At a time when the late twentieth century giants of comparative social science—like S.N. Eisenstadt and Robert Bellah—have recently passed away and when most of the younger generation of social scientists are preoccupied with narrowly focused research questions, it is heartening to see Peter van der Veer reviving the great tradition of comparative inquiry into the cultural origins and consequences of modernity. The Modern Spirit of Asia is an ambitious book that sets a new standard (and a hard standard to meet!) for comparative studies of religion and modernity. The level of erudition is impressive, but unlike the work of most comparative historical sociologists of an earlier era, the knowledge of historical documents is undergirded by an experiential, ethnographic knowledge of the languages and cultures of India and China (as well as extensive knowledge of European languages). Beset by pressures for specialization and for rapid and steady “productivity,” younger scholars will find it difficult to reach the level of scholarship displayed in this book.Read the rest of Looking back while hurtling forward.
Richard Madsen is Distinguished Professor of Sociology, Director of UC Fudan Center, and Acting Provost-Eleanor Roosevelt College (2013-14) at the University of California, San Diego. He is a co-author (with Robert Bellah et al.) of The Good Society and Habits of the Heart, which received the Los Angeles Times Book Award and was jury nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. He has authored or co-authored five books on China, including Morality and Power in a Chinese Village for which he received the C. Wright Mills Award. He also co-edited (with Tracy B. Strong) The Many and the One: Religious and Secular Perspectives on Ethical Pluralism in the Modern World. His latest book is Democracy’s Dharma: Religious Renaissance and Political Development in Taiwan.
Posts by Richard Madsen:
A recent Gallup poll found that almost half of China’s people (47 percent) say that they are “convinced atheists”—the highest rate of atheism in the world. However, surveys conducted by Fenggang Yang and others show high levels of religious practice—as much as 85 percent of the population carry out rituals to honor ancestors, seek out good fortune, ward off evil, celebrate festivals, and accumulate merit for a good afterlife. Ethnographers have also documented the construction of many churches and temples, elaborate festivals, rituals for healing, and the cultivation of the mystical forces of qi. How, then, can we reconcile reports of widespread atheism with those of widespread religious practice?Read the rest of Secular belief, religious belonging.
For almost one hundred years, all sociologists of religion have taken Max Weber’s great work on comparative religions as a primary point of departure. Whole libraries of scholarship have been produced to explicate Weber, expand on Weber, disagree with Weber, revise Weber. In the next hundred years, I think, the point of departure will be Robert Bellah rather than Weber. Bellah’s new masterpiece, Religion in Human Evolution is comparable in scope, breadth of scholarship, and depth of erudition to Weber’s study of world religions, but it is grounded in all of the advances of historical, linguistic, and archeological scholarship that have taken place since Weber, as well as theoretical advances in evolutionary biology and cognitive science.Read the rest of Weber for the 21st century.
Globalization, Chalmers Johnson says, is just a new word for what used to be called imperialism. He is partly correct, but I do think there are some differences. Cultural globalization, at least, is what the world looks like from the point of view of an imperium in decline.
Christianity has been spread around the world for many centuries now. In the sixteenth century, the conquistadores brought Catholic Christianity to South America and the Philippines. In the seventeenth century, Jesuit, Franciscan, and Dominican missionaries brought it to India, Japan, and China. In the nineteenth century, Catholic and Protestant missionaries planted the faith in the colonies established throughout the world during the age of European imperialism. But this dissemination of the Christian faith was not called globalization. It was called “propaganda fidei” or “Christian mission.”Read the rest of The many globalizations of Christianity.
Charles Taylor’s framework for understanding the advent of a “secular age” in the North Atlantic world offers a useful first draft for understanding the place of religion in Asian modernity. As I have shown in my previous two posts, modern Asian countries have secular states, but, despite efforts of some states to destroy all religion, they still have religious societies. In this post, I will discuss how new cultural conditions of belief give religion a different valence than it had in pre-modern times. Taylor’s framework, however, is only a first draft. [...]Read the rest of Hybrid consciousness or purified religion.
The secularity of modern Asian states has by no means led to widespread social secularity, Taylor’s second secularity, a decline of religious belief and practice among ordinary people. The degree of religious practice varies from country to country, but almost everywhere temples, mosques, churches, and shrines are ubiquitous and full of people, especially during festival seasons. Even in China, where the government actively propagates an atheist ideology and has severely restricted open religious activities, it has been estimated that as much as ninety-five percent of the population engages from time to time in some form of religious practice. Moreover, throughout Asia there have been impressive revivals and reformations of Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian religious beliefs and practices—Asia is religiously dynamic.Read the rest of Embedded religion in Asia.
In his monumental book, A Secular Age, Charles Taylor distinguishes three meanings of secularism, as it refers to the “North Atlantic societies” of Western Europe and North America. Can this analytic framework be applied outside of the North Atlantic world, particularly to Asian societies? Taylor himself would not claim to have created a framework for a universal theory of comparative religion. But this framework, grounded in a particular cultural and historical experience, may nonetheless be useful for cross cultural comparisons.Read the rest of Discerning the religious spirit of secular states in Asia.