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« Jeremy Lin and Chinese Soft Power | Main | A Confucian Critique of Santorum's Environmental Denialism »

February 17, 2012


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Really interesting post.

I was having a conversation with a group of people working on a political strategy game, who were debating whether confucianism is a religion. I made all the same points that you made, but I couldn't really dissuade them from the idea that Confucianism in Medieval Chinese identity served a very similar purpose as Christianity in Medieval European identity. I actually walked away rather convinced.

I guess it depends on what you define as a religion

IMO, this kind of question ("Is ____ a religion?") is not very meaningful, because there just is no really good definition of religion.

First, the category 'religion' (as an uncountable noun, a general category) is a false one, used for convenience because of convention, not for its descriptive power. Second, as a countable noun ("religions"), we're still ultimately left appealing to conventional usage to decide what is and isn't a religion, instead of appealing to the nature and function of the ideas or traditions or phenomena under examination.

Why should it matter if there are 'supernatural' entities invoked or not? Some forms of Buddhism lack those. What matters more is how people relate to the ideas/tradition/worldview/ideology/etc., and how it functions in the lives of individuals and communities. I don't have a good replacement word (worldview? ideology? ideas-about-reality?), but I'd rather throw liberalism, socialism, Marxism, Buddhism, atheism, etc. all in one large category, whatever we call it, and then deal with each on its own terms. I think that better respects the nature of the various phenomena we try to examine and is less prejudicial.

Thanks for the comments. And, yes, the definition of "religion" is key here, and perhaps overly problematic...

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