Confucianism in Relation to Religion: A Cross-Cultural Interpretation


This paper consists of two parts. The first part explains the complementary coexistence of Confucianism and other East Asian traditions (most of which are religious) in the Confucian world. It argues that Confucianism, essentially a rationalist and humanist tradition, was religiously relevant in the sense that some religious activities (the worship of Heaven and ancestor worship) were rationalized by Confucianism, and the lack of metaphysics and metapsychology in Confucianism before Neo-Confucianism left room for religious thinking. On the other hand, East Asian religions, themselves somewhat Confucianized, helped to promote Confucian values in reality; meanwhile, they offered real or illusory solutions to problems beyond Confucian rationality and morality. The second part compares Confucianism with Christianity in the modern context. It concludes that secularization in the West is essential to the progress of modernity, whereas the Confucian world was largely secular long before it entered modern times. In the Confucian world, there was no tension between faith and reason, and the relationship between religion and politics was never dominated by religion. Unlike Christianity, Confucianism was in principle not resistant to modernity. The discrepancy between the Confucian tradition and (Western) modernity is not that between the religious and the secular, but that between one kind of secularism and another.


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