Religion, Liberalism and the Nation in East Asia

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 March 2024) | Viewed by 4093

Special Issue Editor


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Guest Editor
Department of Intercultural Communication, Komatsu University, Komatsu, Ishikawa 923-0961, Japan
Interests: East Asian and Japanese history, religion and secularism, production of space

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

You are invited to contribute to the Special Issue entitled “Religion, Liberalism and the Nation in East Asia.”

What is religion? This question is at the core of the construction of the constitutional nation-state, the quintessential modern form of hegemonic political power. Religious belief and conscience are said to constitute the interior core of the modern individual, and in turn, the claim to protect an individual citizen’s right to religious freedom (and other rights) legitimizes the political authority of the modern state vis-a-vis the citizenry. As the representative of the citizenry, however, the nation-state’s authority is a public one which necessitates the expulsion of religious belief and religious institutions from the public space of socio-political life. That is, the public, secular authority of the nation-state interdepends on the privatization of religion. At the same time, liberal democracy predicates on the legal homogenization of the multiplicity of individual citizens into uniform nationality through the cultivation of a shared sense of belonging to a nation, i.e., national identity. This is because the function of democracy requires an ideological basis, a shared commitment to the body politic, i.e., the nation-state. Universalistic liberal democracy operates in and for the exclusivist nation. Here, religious belief is protected by the state, but private religious belief succumbs to the demand for loyalty and commitment to the public nation-state, even though religious belief and nationalism are often difficult to distinguish from each other because of their shared use of rituals to express and project power.

The discourse of religion has profoundly shaped East Asian modernity. Since the mid-nineteenth century, pre-modern East Asian pursuits of human emancipation and fulfillment assisted by supra-natural beings as well as various forms of the self, community, and power have been reconfigured to establish religion, the liberty-bearing citizen, and the nation. Religion, liberty, and the nation constitute powerful political logics that all East Asian states, whether capitalist democracies or socialist party states, need resort to to articulate political authority and social agenda. The application of these powerful, universalistic ideas for the realization of modernity in East Asia, however, like anywhere else, has been marked by inconsistencies, fractures, and tensions. For example, religious belief assumes an interiority that qualifies a person as a modern autonomous individual. This is the essential notion of the private sphere against which the secular public sphere is articulated. However, a person never exists without personal or social relationships. Where the private sphere ends and the public sphere starts can never be easily defined. If religious belief itself cannot be clearly defined, how can it be protected by the state? This is not to mention that a non-citizen is excluded from having this protection by the state from the outset.

This Special Issue explores these fractures and inconsistencies in modern East Asian experience and seeks to contribute new perspectives for the critical examination of the distinctions of public vs. private, religious vs. secular, and state vs. society. The Special Issue also asks whether, and if so, how, the concept of religion has operated to block alternative inspirations and imaginations of forming society and the self. As such, this Special Issue sets out to explore possibilities that are lost in East Asia’s modernizing experience as well as new ones that may be yet to come.

Prof. Dr. Yijiang Zhong
Guest Editor

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Keywords

  • religion
  • secularity
  • liberty
  • citizen
  • public vs. private
  • citizen
  • nationalism
  • civil society

Published Papers (3 papers)

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Research

19 pages, 340 KiB  
Article
The Art of Neighboring beyond the Nation: Ethnic and Religious Pluralism in Southwest China
by Keping Wu
Religions 2024, 15(3), 333; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel15030333 - 12 Mar 2024
Viewed by 938
Abstract
Northwest Yunnan is nested in the border areas of Tibet, Myanmar, and Southwest China. The religiously and ethnically diverse region has astonishingly seen a lack of “conflict”, as is often assumed in regions of ethnic and religious differences. This paper argues that there [...] Read more.
Northwest Yunnan is nested in the border areas of Tibet, Myanmar, and Southwest China. The religiously and ethnically diverse region has astonishingly seen a lack of “conflict”, as is often assumed in regions of ethnic and religious differences. This paper argues that there is an organic form of pluralism through frequent inter-ethnic and inter-religious marriages, multi-lingual daily interactions, and strategic ethnicity registrations. Ethnic and religious boundaries are made permanently or temporarily permeable through the celebration of boundary-crossing rituals such as weddings and funerals and other shared experiences such as collective labor and migrant work. Despite an increasingly strong push to be integrated into the state power through various top-down developmental projects, minority peoples here still use kinship, collective rituals, and other shared experiences to foster group formation that is fluid, porous, and malleable, instilling empathy and obligation as the basis of this pluralistic borderland society. This organic form of pluralism presents an alternative to the nation as the standard modern form of community. This paper ultimately argues that this specific type of plurality requires us to think beyond the normative liberal notions of religious tolerance and diversity that are still promoted within the frame of the exclusivist nation-state. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion, Liberalism and the Nation in East Asia)
30 pages, 3831 KiB  
Article
Mediatization of Religion and Its Impact on Youth Identity Formation in Contemporary China
by Mengxue Wei
Religions 2024, 15(3), 268; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel15030268 - 22 Feb 2024
Viewed by 943
Abstract
In response to the trend of information technology development, religions in China are undergoing a process of mediatization. This study takes the popular Chinese animated films Ne Zha: Birth of the Demon Child (哪吒之魔童降世) (2019) and New Gods: Yang Jian (新神榜: 杨戬) (2022) [...] Read more.
In response to the trend of information technology development, religions in China are undergoing a process of mediatization. This study takes the popular Chinese animated films Ne Zha: Birth of the Demon Child (哪吒之魔童降世) (2019) and New Gods: Yang Jian (新神榜: 杨戬) (2022) as research cases of mediatization of religion and conducts a focused study of the respective protagonists Ne Zha (哪吒) and Yang Jian (杨戬), both prominent figures in Chinese religious and folk traditions. Through text analysis and empirical research on the two movies and their fans, this study examines how religion is being mediatized in contemporary China in the transformation to Religion 2.0 or a type of amalgamation of real- and virtual-world practices that enact a relationship with the divine, and how this shapes identity formation for fans, who are mostly young individuals in their teens and twenties. This research argues that to obtain permission for dissemination in mainstream media and thrive in the cultural context of China, religion chooses to assume the form of media products that can bypass scrutiny that forbids “supernatural phenomena” and aligns with the mainstream ideology. It has to be a “contributory religion” that contributes to the “revitalization” of national spirit and inherited Chinese culture, not a potential “superstitious” threat to the Marxist orthodoxy. In the context of official promotion of atheism and the regulation of public discourse, animated films with themes adapted from traditional mythological and religious stories, such as Ne Zha: Birth of the Demon Child and New Gods: Yang Jian, have become a major cultural form through which people in China engage with religious symbols and narratives. The enormous success of the two movies resulted in a large population of young fans. Influenced by these films, their fans have developed an egoistic religious perspective rather than assimilating the religious or cultural messages contained in the movies. These fans may experience solace and a call to faith to some extent in their consumption of the movies, but they selectively enhance religious literacy that only meets their personal needs. Interest in divine individuals far outweighs interest in or loyalty to the religious doctrine or sect itself. Pilgrimages are undertaken to fulfill personal fantasies, and the promotion of the divine is aimed at vying for influence within fan communities. The second part of this study examines the activities of the fans that I argue are characteristic of the age of Religion 2.0. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion, Liberalism and the Nation in East Asia)
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35 pages, 555 KiB  
Article
Rethinking the Taxonomic Category “Sect/School” (Zong 宗) in the Construction of Modern Buddhism in China—Focusing on Hešeri Rushan’s Eight Schools and Two Practices (“Ba-Zong-Er-Xing 八宗二行”)
by Jidong Chen
Religions 2024, 15(2), 249; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel15020249 - 19 Feb 2024
Viewed by 951
Abstract
This paper explores the origin and role of the Buddhist taxonomic category “zong 宗” (“sect” or “school”) in the formation of modern Buddhism in China. It does so by examining a highly significant late-Qing Buddhist text titled Ba-zong-er-xing 八宗二行 (Eight Schools [...] Read more.
This paper explores the origin and role of the Buddhist taxonomic category “zong 宗” (“sect” or “school”) in the formation of modern Buddhism in China. It does so by examining a highly significant late-Qing Buddhist text titled Ba-zong-er-xing 八宗二行 (Eight Schools and Two Practices), which the author discovered recently in Japan. Authored by the 19th-century Manchu bannerman official Hešeri Rushan 赫舍裏如山, Eight Schools and Two Practices had a direct influence on the prominent Chinese lay Buddhist Yang Wenhui (1837–1911)’s Shi-zong-lue-shuo 十宗略说 (Brief Outline of the Ten Schools) (1913), which subsequently became the most important narrative model, known as the ten-school model, for describing Chinese Buddhist history in modern times. Historians have long recognized that Yang Wenhui’s Brief Outline of the Ten Schools (1913) was influenced by the medieval Japanese text hasshū kōyō 八宗綱要 (Essentials of the Eight Schools) composed by the 13th-century Japanese monk Gyōnen. Identifying, in detail, Hešeri Rushan’s influence on Yang Wenhui sheds light on how a narrative model for Buddhism in its national form grew out of trans-national intellectual sharing and interactions, and how Chinese Buddhism emerged from the interactive and mutually enabling Sino-Japanese discursive field of the 19th century. Gyōnen, Rushan, and Yang Wenhui all used the category zong, referring to both doctrine and school/sect, to organize narratives of Buddhist history. Their uses were, however, different. Gyōnen’s conception of zong (shū in Japanese) was fixed and exclusive, whereas zong for Rushan and Yang meant more of a mobile, nonexclusive identity. Without knowledge of Japanese Buddhism, Rushan made creative use of zong for describing the history and current condition of Chinese Buddhism, thereby superseding the traditional framework of lineage, doctrine, and precept, or zong 宗, jiao 教, lu 律. Rushan’s zong provided the necessary prerequisite knowledge for Yang Wenhui to understand Gyōnen’s theories, which he studied for constructing his own historical narrative and vision for modern Buddhism. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion, Liberalism and the Nation in East Asia)
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