Special Issue "Religion and Chinese Literature"
A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).
Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 July 2019).
The modern, Western, and Christian category of religion as interiorized and depoliticized piety was translated into China in the late nineteenth century and triggered transformations in ideas, practices, institutions, and communities included in or excluded from this non-native model, transformations whose ramifications are still palpable today. However, China is not without its own discourses comparable, but not always commensurable, with “religion.” In classical Chinese, the character jiao, meaning teaching and phonetically related to xiao (filial piety), was used together with words such as zong in medieval Buddhism to form the compound zongjiao, which designates the set of teachings identified with of a particular lineage, or san as in sanjiao, referring to the three main traditions of China: Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism. In this light, the compound zongjiao in modern Chinese, is both a neologism invented (first in Meiji Japan) to translate “religion” from the West and a reiteration of pre-modern Chinese concepts. “Religion” in China, that is, the modern concept of zongjiao, is a product of sustained and multi-layered negotiations and contestations both within and beyond China.
Much scholarly attention has been paid to transformations in the empirical realities grouped under the category of “religion”/zongjiao, which is flanked by the hegemonic “science”/kexue and the illegitimate “superstition”/mixin. The making of “religion”/zongjiao is located at the very heart of the project of secularism, a social, political, legal-constitutional discourse that has been deployed to reconfigure pre-existing traditions, if they were labelled as religious in the first place, as church-like institutions, and to reorganize diffused ideas and practices into the stigmatized “superstition” and the acceptable “popular belief,” the boundaries between these two blurred and flexible. And, it is the putatively secular nation-state that regulates all these religions and nonreligions. However, secularism is not limited to doctrines dictating the relationship between (institutional) religion and (state) politics. Secularism also permeates culture in general, in the form of shared assumptions, sensibilities, attitudes, and dispositions centered upon the place and role of religion in the modern world. In this regard, in the wake of, and supplementing, scholarly investigations into state campaigns, institutional reforms, and social movements, we need to study Chinese literature, a relatively uncharted terrain where “religion”/zongjiao was brought into being and remains an open-ended question.
It is to be emphasized that the model of aesthetic “literature,” not unlike the category of “religion,” was imported into China from the West in late Qing and translated as wenxue. Whereas the modern compound of wenxue designates an autonomous field distinguished from other social spheres and encompassing specific genres such as fiction, poetry, and drama, the traditional concept of wen, counterpart of jiao as the native forerunner of zongjiao, denotes writings, both in prose genres and poetic forms, performed by literati for the sake of cultivating the self and upholding civilization in general. The semantic fields of wen and of wenxue, just like those of jiao and of zongjiao, do not always overlap. The transformations of religion and literature, two sets of discourses, institutions, and practices, are closely intertwined.
To shed light on this entanglement and the complexity of Chinese secularism in the realm of culture, we invite articles that study religion and literature in China, both broadly construed, before, during, and/or after the translation of “religion” and “literature.” We are especially keen to solicit submissions that explore the religion-literature interaction from the late imperial period up to the present, but we also welcome submissions that a) take us to explore earlier periods to further our understanding of jiao and wen; or b) look beyond the limits of national history to study the circulation of ideas and practices between China, the West, and/or some other non-Western context.
Dr. Zhange Ni
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