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« The Limits of Confucian Revivalism in Korea | Main | When "Confucianism" isn't really Confucianism »

February 09, 2012

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Uh, Confucianism did survive into the modern era, no?

Arguably, Confucianism's religious flexibility has hurt it in certain ways—there are few (no?) Confucian fundamentalists who insist that we go back to doing the old time rites the way that there are fundamentalist Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists. Also, Confucianism seems to be only weakly proselytizing, so it hasn't spread beyond the Sinosphere (China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam). Still, it's hard to deny that it continues to have a strong influence on the shape of culture in those countries even absent any of the flashier displays of religious solidarity that you get in Islam and Christianity.

Carl, thanks for the thought...
Confucianism did not survive all that well in China. the twentieth century was rather rough; the Maoist period powerfully antagonistic. The revival that has happened in the past couple decades produces only a shadow of what it was in imperial times. Just about everywhere in East Asia its contemporary influence is mediated by strong materialist-instrumentalist economic and social incentives that attenuate is living significance.....

One of the problems that Confucianism might face (and it wouldn't be alone) is that modern (Western) moral thought is almost entirely dominated by the notion of rights and duties, and Confucianism, as a form of virtue theory, is not well placed to accommodate these ideas. So, in so far as the Chinese accommodate themselves to modernity, which is taken to include modern morality as part of the package, Confucianism will struggle to have real moral relevance. Lacking moral relevance its future may be to be reduced to the decorative or symptomatic cultural status of the Anglican Church in England - which embodies a certain stereotype of Englishness, but not the reality, and which can reflect moral changes without motivating them.

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