Religion, Superstition, and Secularism in Modern China

History 103F.001

Fall 2017
2231 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
T 12-2
Class Number: 

Narratives of modern Chinese history have often consigned the practice of religion to a fading pre-Communist past. However, the remarkable religious revival in recent decades since the end of the Cultural Revolution has inspired historians to reconsider the fate of religion and its place in the making of modern China. How did modern secularism inform the transition from cosmic empire to nation-state? Why were attempts to reform Chinese society using Western concepts of religion and superstition so problematic? How did Buddhists and Daoists engage with such concepts and other features of modernity? Did Christian missions provide a model, and were they able to overcome their foreign origins to become indigenous movements? How did religious difference in the borderlands of Tibet and Xinjiang shape the ethnic and territorial formation of the Chinese nation? Was the Communist revolution, and its devotion to Mao, influenced by the very religious traditions it targeted for destruction? We will explore these questions and more through close reading and critical discussion of recent scholarship on the history of religion in China with a focus on the twentieth century. In addition, we will also examine representative examples of missionary records, religious periodicals, memoirs, and other relevant primary sources available in English.

J. Brooks Jessup is a Visiting Lecturer in the Department of History. His book manuscript examines the rise of Shanghai as a national center of Buddhist activism in twentieth-century China. Current research interests include urban history, public religion, Buddhist modernism, human-animal relations, and environmental history.