The efflorescence of religious life in China over the past thirty-some years has been truly amazing. In the rural areas and small towns of Wenzhou, on the country’s southeastern coast, where I have conducted fieldwork for the past twenty years, one can find periodic religious festivals celebrated in the streets and see people hold their annual ancestor sacrificial rituals. New and restored deity temples, ancestor halls, Daoist and Buddhist temples, and Protestant and Catholic churches have sprung up at a similarly frantic pace. Yi Jing (易经, “Book of Changes”) diviners, fortune-tellers, geomantic fengshui masters, and spirit mediums all enjoy a prosperous business. Even in mega-cities like Shanghai, where most of the population is firmly secular, one still finds much religious activity. In 2012, I found the main City God Temple in Shanghai gleaming with new interior décor, funded by wealthy families who spend hundreds of thousands of yuan hiring Daoist priests to conduct rituals to ensure family health and prosperity. Furthermore, the growing field of religious studies in China no longer feels the need to restrict research to the safety of the historical past. A new generation of younger scholars conducts fieldwork on the rich and diverse religious life found in all corners of the country today.
Posts Tagged ‘Ideology’
There are reductive categories . . . that have been and should be abandoned in scholarly discourse because the terms are inherently pejorative. But there are other terms—such as religion—that, while not explicitly denigratory, can very rarely be used without legitimating a deeply problematic political position.The issue is ideology and not only oversimplification.
Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs, posts a helpful piece at his blog, The Rubin Report, elucidating the differences and the affinities between Islam and political Islamism, and examining some of the ways in which they’ve been either conflated or unduly separated.
There is something very liberating about Jonathan Sheehan’s call for moving orthogonally into the mundanities of everyday research, even though a part of me is skeptical of ever proceeding without at least tacitly presupposing the very ideological commitments he suggests we shy away from. As my former graduate colleague, Sean Silver, notes in a wonderful essay “Locke’s Pineapple and the History of Taste“: “The problem with empiricism, the argument goes, is that it doesn’t know that it is an ideology.” Be that as it may, perhaps this willing suspension of disbelief (to dip into my literary critic’s toolkit) is just the type of maneuver that can gain some traction in our attempt to think critique immanently.
Without art, Victor Shklovsky writes in “Art as Technique,” “life is reckoned as nothing. Habitualization devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war….And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life.” In this spirit of freedom from anaesthetizing habit we can, and urgently should, take up the torn threads that tie humanism up with civic education. We humanists can join artists as cultural agents who promote creativity and interpretation as resources for social development. The objective is not a partisan victory but the formation of “thick” civic subjects who are alive to the world and exercise the free judgment that we learn, as Kant taught us, through developing a disinterested enjoyment of beauty. Democracy depends on sturdy and resourceful citizens able to engage more than one point of view and to wrest rights and resources from limited assets. In other words, non-authoritarian government counts on creativity to loosen conventional thought and free up the space where conflicts are negotiated, before they reach a brink of either despair or aggression.