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Confucianism as a World ReligionContested Histories and Contemporary Realities$

Anna Sun

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780691155579

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691155579.001.0001

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Confucianism as a World Religion

Confucianism as a World Religion

The Legitimation of a New Paradigm

(p.97) Chapter 4 Confucianism as a World Religion
Confucianism as a World Religion

Anna Sun

Princeton University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter presents an overview of how Confucianism has been classified as a world religion in both popular and academic texts over the past century, suggesting that this classification has had a lasting impact on both the popular imagination and academic institutions. It argues that the notion of world religions has become the universally recognized “achievement” that provides model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners. In this case, this community consists of scholars in religious studies, as well as scholars who study Chinese religions in other fields, such as sociology, history, philosophy, and Asian studies. The chapter focuses on the acceptance and implementation of this paradigm in American academia, instead of comparing it to that of another country, such as Great Britain.

Keywords:   Confucians, China, social science, world religions, religious studies, sociology, philosphy, American academia

SINCE THE TURN OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, the classification of Confucianism as a world religion, which originated in Max Müller’s Sacred Books of the East series, has been accepted by generations of comparative religion scholars as well as scholars in related fields in the humanities and social sciences. Among social scientists, the most significant early adherent of this framework was Max Weber, who adopted the classification of world religions for what he called his “sociology of world religions” project. In his essay “The Social Psychology of World Religions” (1913–15), he explained his approach:

By “world religions,” we understand the five religions or religiously determined systems of life-regulation which have known how to gather multitudes of confessors around them. The term is used here in a completely value-neutral sense. The Confucian, Hinduist, Buddhist, Christian, and Islamist religious ethics all belong to the category of world religion. A sixth religion, Judaism, will also be dealt with. It is included because it contains historical preconditions decisive for understanding Christianity and Islamism, and because of its historic and autonomous significance for the development of the modern economic ethic of the Occident—a significance, partly real and partly alleged, which has been discussed several times recently. References to other religions will be made only when they are indispensable for historical connections.1

Weber’s utilization of the world religions framework formed the foundation of his work in the sociological study of religion, starting with his seminal analysis of one of the world religions, Christianity, in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904–5),2 followed by The Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism (1915),3 The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism (1916–17),4 and (p.98) Ancient Judaism (1917–19).5 Hans H. Gerth and Don Martindale note that “Max Weber’s untimely death in 1920 prevented him from rounding out his studies with an analysis of the Psalms, the Book of Job, Talmudic Jewry, Early Christianity, and Islamism.”6 Sociologists today are still dealing with the rich legacy of Weber’s sociology of world religions.7

How do we assess the successful spread and legitimation of the world religions paradigm in general, and the classification of Confucianism in particular? In his groundbreaking study of history of science, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn uses the concept of “paradigm” in his investigation of the historical and social nature of scientific knowledge. By “paradigm” he refers to the “universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners.”8 Although Kuhn’s discussion of what he calls “normal science” is limited to natural scientific disciplines such as physics and biology, his notion of “normal science” can indeed be applied to other knowledge-producing disciplines, such as religious studies: “‘[N]ormal’ science means research firmly based upon one or more past scientific achievements, achievements that some particular scientific community acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundation for its further practice.”9

If we view a humanistic or social scientific discipline such as religious studies or sociology in the same light, then what Kuhn says in the following passage about the signs of the implementation of “a single paradigm” in a given field can also be applied to non-natural-science disciplines:

In the sciences (though not in fields like medicine, technology, and law, of which the principal raison d’être is an external social need), the formation of specialized journals, the foundation of specialists’ societies, and the claim for a special place in the curriculum have usually been associated with a group’s first reception of a single paradigm.10

In other words, we can examine the reception or legitimation of a paradigm through many observable social facts. In the rest of this chapter, I argue that the notion of world religions, in particular the notion of Confucianism as one of the major world religions, has indeed become the universally recognized “achievement” that provides “model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners,” in this case scholars in religious studies, as well as scholars who study Chinese religions in other fields, such as sociology, history, philosophy, and Asian studies.

My focus is on the following aspects that constitute a classical establishment of a paradigm: popular publications and textbooks, scholarly publications in various related disciplines from the nineteenth century to today, the establishment of scholarly associations, new academic departments, and new academic curricula. In order to simplify my argument, I (p.99) chose to center on the acceptance and implementation of this paradigm in American academia, rather than comparing it to academia in another country, such as Great Britain.11 However, the publications examined are not simply publications in the States but include English-language scholarship from international libraries and databases, which also reflect the increasingly global nature of knowledge production today.

Confucianism as a World Religion in Today’s Popular Books and Textbooks

Searching the keywords “world religions” in the “books” category on Amazon.com produces 110,997 titles (as of May 20, 2012). There are 422 titles if we narrow the search by using the keywords “world religions Confucianism.” If we search “world religions textbook” under “Religion and Spirituality,” 1,011 results appear. When we select the books through the Amazon.com search function “popularity,” we can see easily which textbooks on world religions belong to the top ten. Do they all discuss Confucianism as a world religion?

Among these best-selling titles is Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions, a top-seller since its first publication in 1958.12 Smith’s The Illustrated World’s Religions: Guide to Our Wisdom Traditions is another popular choice.13 Prentice Hall’s Religions of the World is now in its tenth edition, and McGraw-Hill’s Experiencing the World’s Religions is also a popular title.14 All these books on world religions include Confucianism as a world religion.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to World Religions is another well-liked choice, with a chapter titled “Confucianism: Human Relations 101.”15 Descriptions such as “spiritual beliefs” and “ancient system of Chinese ethical thought” are used interchangeably when it comes to Confucianism. Another book, The World’s Wisdom: Sacred Texts of the World’s Religions, offers a selection of “sacred texts” of world religions.16 A review from a librarian is worth citing:

This is a compendium of sacred texts of the religions of the world, written as a companion for Huston Smith’s classic The Religions of Man. Chapters cover Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Primal religions (e.g., Native American, African, etc.). The intent of the book is clearly to whet the appetite of the first-year college student by offering tidbits from the New Testament, Tao Te Ching, Qur’an, Hebrew Bible, etc., in small, tasty portions, easily consumed without any need for deep reading or reflection.17

The “tidbits” from Confucianism include passages from the Analects, Mencius, Daxue (the Great Learning), as well as a few Chinese proverbs. (p.100) The book is recommended by the reviewer “as a good text and supplementary reader for any college introductory class in religious studies.”

In World Religions in America: An Introduction, it is stated that “the major religious traditions of East Asia are Buddhism and Confucianism, both of which have profoundly influenced all East Asian societies.”18 In Oneness: Great Principles Shared by All Religions, with a glowing blurb from the Dalai Lama on the cover (“As this book shows … every major religion of the world has similar ideas of love [and] the same goal of benefiting humanity through spiritual practice”), there are quite a few principles attributed to Confucianism.19 In Pope Benedict XVI’s Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, he speaks of Confucius as one of “the great founders of East Asian Religions.”20

This narrative of major world religions is often connected to the narrative of world history. For example, Confucianism as a world religion appears in popular textbooks such as Oxford University Press’s Atlas of World History, edited by Patrick K. O’Brien,21 as well as in the bestselling book How to Prepare for the AP World History, in which categories such as “world civilizations,” “world cultures,” and “world religions” are used abundantly, and Confucianism is discussed as one of the world religions.22

This general discourse of world religions, of which Confucianism is a vital part, has permeated not only secondary and postsecondary education but also the education of children. One of the top twenty best-selling books on world religion on Amazon.com is titled One World, Many Religions: The Ways We Worship. In this book for kids aged nine to twelve, Mary Pope Osborne promises to “survey the origins, traditions, sacred writings, forms of worship, and major holidays of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism.”23 In The Kids Book of World Religions, another book aimed at the same age group, Confucianism is depicted as a major world religion, along with a colorful illustration of Confucius.24

It is important to note that some authors of these introductory texts seem to be uneasy about including Confucianism in the pantheon of world religions, and yet they are compelled to do so due to existing categories and conventions. For instance, although John Bowker includes Confucianism in his chapter on “Chinese Religions” in his widely read World Religions, he does not speak of it as one of the major faiths of the world.25

Some of the authors are also concerned about the term “Confucianism,” conscious of its Western origin; we find the following explanation in World Religions Today: “We use Confucianism, a Western term originated in eighteenth-century Europe [in fact the word “Confucianism” did not come into existence until the nineteenth century], instead of the corresponding Chinese term rujia, meaning ‘literati tradition.’”26

(p.101) Confucianism as a World Religion in Book Publications

If we conduct a brief overview of the publication of books in English related to Confucianism as well as world religions through the WorldCat catalogue, the world’s largest network of library content and services, we can see that there were essentially three stages in the development of such publications:27

  1. 1. The first stage of publications (pre-1870): the beginning of the development of a historical and comparative understanding of religion through a small number of publications.

  2. 2. The second stage of publications (1870–1960): the gradual establishment of the world religions discourse and the corresponding establishment of Confucianism as a world religion through larger numbers of scholarly as well as popular publications on these topics.

  3. 3. The third stage of publications (1960–today): the full acceptance and recognition of the world religions discourse as the central framework in the comparative study of religions are demonstrated through the abundant publications that support and rely on this paradigm.

First, let us look at the publications connected to world religions.28 Although there were some books with the keywords “world religions” published between 1800 and 1870 (e.g., 141 such books were published between 1860 and 1870), which is what I call the first stage, we can see clearly that there was a period of growth of such books between 1870 and 1960. In the second stage, there were 645 such books being published between 1890 and 1900 and 612 between 1950 and 1960—not much change from the end of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century, given the explosion of the publishing industry in the twentieth century. In the third stage, between 1960 and 2007, there was an enormous growth of such publications, indeed a boom: between 1960 and 1970, 1,085 titles; between 1970 and 1980, 1,467 titles; between 1980 and 1990, 2,205 titles; between 1990 and 2000, 4,009 titles.

If we search for books with the keyword “Confucianism,” published between 1800 and 2007, a similar pattern emerges. Again, this can be easily divided into a three-stage development, although the beginning of the publication of books relating to Confucianism was a lot later than the books relating to world religions. A search shows that there was nothing published on Confucianism between 1800 and 1830.29 Between 1830 and 1870, which is within the first stage, there were ten titles, three of which were written by Legge,30 and the rest were missionary texts such as the 1859 book by Joseph Edkins (1823–1905) titled The Religious (p.102) Conditions of the Chinese: With Observations on the Prospectors of Christian Conversion amongst that People.31 However, from 1870 to 1960, the second stage of growth, we see a steady rise in the numbers of books relating to Confucianism. Further searches on WorldCat show that in the twenty years before the publication of the first SBE volume on Confucianism, namely between 1858 and 1878, there were thirty published books on Confucianism, most of which were written by missionaries, most notably Legge and Elkins. In the twenty years after the publication of the last SBE volume on Confucianism, between 1887 and 1907, there were 118 published books on Confucianism, most of which were written not by missionaries who had spent time in China but by people who were interested in the comparative study of world religions, with titles such as Comparative Religion: Its Genesis and Growth (1905).32

However, starting in the 1960s, a significant rise took place: between 1960 and 1970, 171 titles concerning Confucianism were published; between 1980 and 1990, 373 titles; between 1990 and 2000, 605 titles; and between 2000 and 2007, not yet a full decade, 445 titles. A parallel can be found when we search under the keywords “world religions,” and “Confucianism” or “Confucius.”

What this shows is that there is a similar pattern between the rise of numbers of books on Confucianism as a world religion and the rise of numbers of books on world religions, and this connection can still be seen through the many publications on both world religions and Confucianism on the Amazon.com top-selling list today. In order to understand how and why they are connected, we need to turn to explanations that are intellectual, political, as well as social. Here let us continue our assessment of the acceptance of the world religions paradigm in American academia through an examination of academic curricula and scholarly associations.

The Teaching of Confucianism in American Academic Curricula Today

In order to get a concrete sense of whether the world religions paradigm has indeed become the foundation for the practice of teaching among religion scholars, and whether Confucianism is taught as a world religion within this framework, I sampled the curricula in two types of American higher education institutions that are devoted to the study of religious knowledge: religious studies departments as well as divinity schools. As we shall see, today Confucianism is considered by many religious studies departments and divinity schools in American universities to be one of the major world religions. (p.103)

Table 4.1. Top-Selling Books in English on World Religions

Ranking on Amazon.com



Confucianism as a World Religion?


Experiencing the World’s Religions

Michael Molloy



The World’s Religions

Huston Smith



Buddhism Plain and Simple

Steve Hagen

Not applicable


Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey

Walter Elwell and Robert Yarbrough

Not applicable


Living Religions

Mary Pat Fisher



100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum

Cathy Duffy



The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion

Micrea Eliade



Gospel in Life Study Guide: Grace Changes Everything

Timothy Keller

Not applicable


World Religions: The Great Faiths Explored & Explained

John Bowker



The Illustrated World’s Religions: Guide to Our Wisdom Traditions

Huston Smith


Source: Amazon.com; ranking as of May 20, 2012.

Note: “Not applicable” because these are texts specifically about a single religious tradition, such as Buddhism or Christianity.


Table 4.2. University Course Offerings on World Religions


Courses on World Religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam

Courses That Include Confucianism as a Religion or World Religion

1. Harvard



1. Princeton



3. Yale



4. Columbia



5. California Institute of Technology*

Not applicable

Not applicable

5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology*

Not applicable

Not applicable

5. Stanford



5. University of Chicago



5. University of Pennsylvania



10. Duke



Source: “National University Rankings,” US News & World Report (2012).

(*) This university does not have a religious studies department.

Let us first examine religious studies departments (or departments of religion) at the top ten universities listed in the 2012 US World News & World Report rankings. Table 4.2 shows an overview of the course offerings in these religious studies departments.

At Harvard University, where “Committee on the Study of Religion” is the official title of the program in religious studies, the introductory course on world religion, “Religion 11: World Religions: Diversity and Dialogue,” is required of all undergraduate concentrators.33 For PhD students, it is stated that students need to focus on “historical complexes” that include “the Greco-Roman or Hellenistic world, the modern West, East Asia, China, Japan, South Asia,” and religious traditions that include “Buddhist, Christian, Confucian, Hindu, Islamic, and Jewish.”34

At Yale University, the Department of Religious Studies at one point offered not one but three courses related to world religions.35 They are “RLST 100b: Introduction to World Religions,” “RLST 101a: World Religions in New Haven,” and the following course:

RLST 103b World Religions and Ecology: Asian Religions

The emerging relationships of world religions to the global environmental crisis. Attention to both the problems and the promise of these relationships. Ways in which religious ideas and practices have contributed to cultural (p.105) attitudes and human interactions with nature. Examples from Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism.36

At Stanford, although there is no course on world religions, the undergraduate program asks the students to study the “major questions, themes, developments, features, and figures in the world’s religious traditions.” The following course on Chinese religions was offered in the academic year 2006–7, which adopted a classification of Chinese religions legitimized by the world religions paradigm:

RELIGST 35 Introduction to Chinese Religions

Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, and the interchange among these belief systems and institutions. Set against the background of Chinese history, society, and culture, with attention to elite and popular religious forms.37

At the University of Pennsylvania, although the Department of Religious Studies offers no course on world religions, there is the following course on religions of Asia, in which Confucianism features prominently:

RELS001 Religions of Asia

This course is an introduction to the religious traditions of Southern and Eastern Asia. It surveys the beliefs, rituals, and thought of major traditions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism—and less well known traditions—Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, Shintoism. The focus of the course will be on the lived experience of each tradition, looking at the worldviews, motives and aspirations of religious figures.38

At Duke University, where “the Department of Religion is one of the largest Humanities departments at Duke and one of the most prestigious departments of religion in the country,” the department offers courses in different religious traditions.39 Although Confucianism is not explicitly mentioned among the traditions, the following course was offered as recently as spring 2012:

AMES 118S/REL 161YS Religion and Culture in Korea

This course introduces you to the dynamics of contemporary Korean religions: Shamanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, Islam, and new religions including Kimilsungism. From a global perspective, we look critically at the diverse expressions of Korean religions in popular culture, politics, economy, literature, sports, and media.40

However, it is worth noticing that the department’s “New Graduate Track in Asian Religions” does not mention Confucianism at all.

At Princeton University, although there isn’t a course focusing on Confucianism in the Department of Religion, Confucian tradition is still discussed in the East Asian context as a religious tradition:

(p.106) REL 228 Religion in Japanese Culture (also EAS 228)

An introduction to Japanese religion from ancient to modern times, focusing on its role in culture and history. Representative aspects of Shinto, Buddhist, Confucian, and other traditions will be studied, as well as such topics as myth, ritual, shamanism, and ancestor worship.41

At Columbia University, although we cannot find a course devoted to world religions, Confucianism is once again covered, here in a course on Chinese religious traditions:

RELI V 2405x Chinese Religious Traditions

Development of the Three Teachings of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism: folk eclecticism; the contemporary situation in Chinese cultural areas. Readings drawn from primary texts, poetry, and popular prose.42

For the divinity schools, let us look at five leading divinity schools in the country, a list partially based on the National Research Council rankings of PhD programs in religious studies and theology.43 Here we see that Confucianism is indeed viewed as one of the major religious traditions or a world religion. For instance, Confucianism is one of the world religions being studied at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard; at Harvard Divinity School, Tu Weiming offered courses as the Harvard-Yenching Professor of Chinese History and Philosophy and of Confucian Studies until his retirement in 2010.

At Yale Divinity School, courses such as “REL 817b World Religions and Ecology: Asian Religions” are offered; this course “explores the various ways in which religious ideas and practices have contributed to cultural attitudes and human interactions with nature. Examples are selected from Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism.”44 At Princeton Theological Seminary, one component of the comprehensive PhD examinations is the following: “Religious and Social Ethics of a Non-Christian Tradition (Confucian, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Indigenous, Judaic), with special reference to its encounter with Christianity in at least one context.”45

At the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, Anthony Yu, professor emeritus of religion and literature, taught courses that “reinterpret classical Chinese narratives and poetry in light of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.”46 And at the Boston University School of Theology, John H. Berthrong, the associate professor of comparative theology and deputy director of the Division of Religious and Theological Studies, has written extensively on Confucianism.47 Another well-known scholar of Confucianism, Robert Neville, professor of philosophy, religion, and theology, is the author of Boston Confucianism: Portable Tradition in the Late-Modern World.48

(p.107) Scholars of Confucianism in American Academic Associations

In The University Gets Religion: Religious Studies in American Higher Education, D. G. Hart writes about the “formal emergence of the field in the period from 1925 to 1965” in American higher education:

These four decades witnessed the formation of a body of scholars with a common interest in teaching religion in an academically respectable manner. This was also the time when religion emerged institutionally as an academic department at most of the colleges and universities where it is now taught and studied.49

Hart divides his study into three parts:

  1. Part I: The Age of the University, 1870–1925

  2. Part II: The Age of the Protestant Establishment, 1925–1965

  3. Part III: The Age of the American Academy of Religion, 1965–Present

This indeed corresponds well with the pattern we saw in the world religions publications. What we view as the second stage of such publications, from 1870 to 1960, can be split into two phases in the context of the institutionalization of religious studies in American higher education: from 1870 to 1925, the formative years of the paradigm of historical and comparative study of world religions; from 1925 to 1965, as Hart argued, “the time when religion emerged institutionally as an academic department at most of the colleges and universities where it is now taught and studied.”50

According to Hart, the first professional society for religion scholars in America was the Society of Biblical Literature, founded in 1880, which published the quarterly Journal of Biblical Literature.51 Shortly afterward, in 1909, Professor Ismar J. Peritz of Syracuse University founded the Association of Biblical Instructors in American Colleges and Secondary Schools, with the purpose of stimulating “scholarship and teaching in religion”:

The group continued to meet under the original name until December of 1922 when members voted to change the name to the National Association of Biblical Instructors, and thereby acquired the acronym NABI (“prophet” in Hebrew). In 1933, the Journal of the NABI was launched and published twice a year until 1937 when the name was changed to the Journal of Bible and Religion, a quarterly periodical. By 1963, the association, sparked by dramatic changes in the study of religion, was ready for another transformation. Upon the recommendation of a Self-Study Committee, NABI became the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and was incorporated under this name in 1964. Two years later, the name of the journal was changed to the Journal of the American Academy of Religion (JAAR).52

(p.108) In other words, the AAR as we know it today was founded in 1964, and the “dramatic changes in the study of religion” were as much about the tension between the older Protestant curriculum and more critical inquiries in religious studies as about the radical changes in cultural and political values in the 1960s.53 The AAR’s rapid growth testifies to the institutional strength that contributes to the continuing expansion of what was coming to be called “religious studies”:

From a base of four founding members in 1909, the AAR has grown to 9,000 members today. Members are largely faculty at colleges, universities, and divinity schools in North America, with a growing percentage located at institutions of higher education in Asia, Africa, and Europe.54

From the AAR “Annual Report 2006,” we learn that in 2005 the AAR experienced a watershed event, passing the 10,000-member mark for the first time in its history.55 Among these members, most of them “teach in more than 1,500 colleges, universities, seminaries, and schools in North America and abroad.”56

Not surprisingly, one of the key academic associations that scholars of Confucianism today gravitate toward the most is AAR. With its many sections and groups dedicated to comparative and/or Asian topics, such as Comparative Studies in Religion, Religion in South Asia, Japanese Religions, Korean Religions, Sacred Space in Asia, Daoist Studies, and Religions in Chinese and Indian Cultures, many scholars of Chinese religions have found their academic community at the annual AAR meetings. For people who study Confucianism, there are two groups that are particularly hospitable to them: the Chinese Religions Group and the Confucian Traditions Group. The Confucian Tradition Group is arguably the most welcoming intellectual home for scholars of Confucianism at AAR, with its statement that it is “committed to the study of the diversity of religious traditions associated with Confucius. It embraces historical, philosophical, and dialogical approaches, and is not located in any single country or discipline.”57 At the 2007 AAR annual conference, there were three sessions organized by the Confucian Traditions Group, with topics ranging from “The Religious Status of Confucianism” to “Values in Conflict: Confucian Attempts to Resolve Moral Dilemmas.”58 In 2007, the Chinese Religions Group had 101 members on its email list, the Confucian Tradition Group 120.59

If AAR is the most established association of scholars of religious studies in America, then the American Philosophical Association is undoubtedly the most established association of academic philosophers. Although there are often papers on Confucianism presented at meetings of this association, the approach is primarily philosophical, with little or no discussion on Confucianism as a religion, unlike the situation at AAR meetings.

(p.109) There are very few scholars working on Confucianism in social science disciplines; besides attending large disciplinary conferences such as the American Sociological Association meetings, they can attend two other types of association meetings: those of associations focusing on the sociological study of religion, such as the Society for the Study of Religion (SSSR) and the Association for the Sociology of Religion (ASR), and conferences dealing with religion and regional studies, such as the AAR and the Association for Asian Studies (AAS).60

To conclude, although scholars who study Confucianism as a religion or world religion do not have their own academic association, they have indeed established themselves as part of the larger intellectual community of religious studies scholars, and their membership in associations such as the AAR is not only uncontested, but warmly welcomed. The growth and strength of the discipline of religious studies have created a solid institutional structure for people who study Confucianism as a religion, and the fact that there have been major disagreements regarding the religious nature of Confucianism among these scholars for several decades shows only the overall stability of the world religions paradigm in the field of religious studies.


(1.) H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, eds., From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964), 267.

(p.203) (2.) Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York: Routledge Classics, 2001 [1904–5]).

(4.) Max Weber, The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism, trans. Hans H. Gerth and Don Martindale (New York: Free Press, 1958 [1916–17]). There is one reference to Max Müller in Weber’s discussion of the Vedas (see p. 27), which means that Weber had certainly consulted Max Müller’s writing.

(5.) Max Weber, Ancient Judaism, trans. Hans H. Gerth and Don Martindale (New York: Free Press, 1952 [1917–19]).

(7.) For instance, see Robert Bellah, Tokugawa Religion: The Cultural Roots of Modern Japan (New York: Free Press, 1957); Toby E. Huff and Wolfgang Schluchter, eds., Max Weber and Islam (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1999); Bryan S. Turner, Weber and Islam (London: Routledge Kegan Paul, 1978); and David Martin Jones, The Image of China in Western Social and Political Thought (Hampshire: Palgrave, 2001). The historian Michael Puett has also addressed Weber’s treatment of Confucianism; see Michael Puett, To Become a God: Cosmology, Sacrifice, and Self-Divinization in Early China (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002), 5–8. Scholars have also been examining the multifaceted historical conditions under which Weber produced his analysis of China. In his remarkable comparative study of the German colonial state, the sociologist George Steinmatz states,

Weber’s Religion of China was structured around the premise of Chinese economic stagnation, which he explained in terms of shortcomings of Chinese values or national culture. He drew most heavily on the writings of Jan de Groot, who considered the Chinese to be “semi-civilized” and prone to religious “fanaticism.” Weber was ignorant of the growth of Chinese capitalism in the late nineteenth century, including in the region around the future German colony in Shandong Province. He also ignored the fettering impact of Western imperialism on Chinese capitalism and of British opium on the Chinese work ethic. Weber accepted de Groot’s sweeping assertion that Confucianism was oriented toward “adjustment to the world” rather than “rational transformation of the world” in ways that prevented the emergence of “those great and methodical business conceptions which are rational in nature.”

See The Devil’s Handwriting: Precoloniality and the German Colonial State in Qingdao, Samoa, and Southwest Africa (Chicago: Chicago Press, 2007), 416.

(8.) Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), x.

(9.) Ibid., 10.

(10.) Ibid., 19.

(11.) I briefly discuss the reception of the world religions paradigm in China in chapter 4.

(12.) Huston Smith, The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions (San Francisco: Harper, 1991 [1958]).

(13.) Huston Smith, The Illustrated World’s Religions: Guide to Our Wisdom Traditions (San Francisco: Harper, 1995).

(p.204) (14.) Lewis Hopfe and Mark Woodward, Religions of the World, 10th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2006); Michael Molloy, Experiencing the World’s Religions: Tradition, Challenge, and Change, 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004).

(15.) Brandon Toropov and Father Luke Buckles, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to World Religions, 3rd ed. (New York: Alpha Books, 2004).

(16.) Philip Novak, The World’s Wisdom: Sacred Texts of the World’s Religions (San Francisco: Harper, 1995).

(17.) Glenn Masuchika, “Review of The World’s Wisdom: Sacred Texts of the World’s Religions,” Library Journal (1994): www.libraryjournal.com.

(18.) Jacob Neusner, ed., World Religions in America: An Introduction, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Westminster John Knox, 2003), 157.

(19.) Jeffrey Moses, Oneness: Great Principles Shared by All Religions, rev. ed. (New York: Ballantine Books, 2002).

(20.) Pope Benedict, Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, trans. Henry Taylor (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 40–41.

(21.) Patrick K. O’Brien, ed., Atlas of World History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

(22.) John McCannon, How to Prepare for the AP World History (Hauppauge, N.Y.: Barron’s Educational Series, 2005).

(23.) Mary Pope Osborne, One World, Many Religions: The Ways We Worship (New York: Knopf, 1996), front flap.

(24.) Jennifer Glossop, The Kids Book of World Religions (Tonawanda, N.Y.: Kids Can Press, 2003).

(25.) John Bowker, World Religions: The Great Faiths Explored & Explained (New York: DK, 2006).

(26.) John L. Esposito, Darrell J. Fasching, and Todd Lewis, World Religions Today (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 437.

(27.) Here I focus only on English-language books. A discussion of publications on Confucianism in the Chinese language can be found in chapter 4.

(28.) My first encounter with the copious nineteenth-century texts on world religions was in Firestone Library, Princeton; I’m grateful for the open-stack arrangement that enabled me to step back to see the books as part of a larger picture. My many visits to the Harris Manchester Library, Oxford, especially its Carpenter Collection, one of the best late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century collections of books and pamphlets on comparative religion (especially religions in Asia), made it possible for me to start understanding the patterns. I’m very grateful to Sue Killoran, fellow librarian of Harris Manchester College, for allowing me to sort through the treasures, and for giving me a hard copy of the catalogue of the Carpenter Collection before it was made available online.

(29.) Although WorldCat offers access to a large number of library catalogs, it is by no means perfect. The three items relating to Confucianism listed on WorldCat for the period between 1800 and 1830 were all misattributed until recently, partly due to the fact that these books are from an earlier time and the so-called copyright pages are not as uniform as today. The first item is The Rise and Decline of Islam by William Muir (1819–1905); since he was barely eleven years old in 1830, it’s unlikely that his book was published between 1800 and 1830. In fact, his book was published around 1883 by Present Day Tracts. The second (p.205) item is The Ideal Man of Confucianism by Arnold Foster (1846–1919), who was not even born in 1830 (the information is from the University of Cambridge catalogue, which dates the book as “1800s”). The third and last item is China’s Educational System: What She Studies and What She Needs to Learn, by a J. L. Stewart. This is most certainly John Leighton Stuart (1876–1962), a missionary and later U.S. ambassador to China, who became the first president of Yenching University in 1919 and had written on Chinese educational issues.

(30.) These are in fact the reprints of the same 1867 book by James Legge, The Life and Teachings of Confucius, with Explanatory Notes (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1867).

(31.) Joseph Edkins, The Religious Conditions of the Chinese: With Observations on the Prospectors of Christian Conversion Amongst That People (London: Routledge, Warnes & Routledge, 1859).

(32.) Louis Henry Jordan, Comparative Religion: Its Genesis and Growth (New York: Scribner, 1905).

(33.) Harvard University, “Committee on the Study of Religion Undergraduate Coursework,” http://studyofreligion.fas.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k70796&tabgroupid=icb.tabgroup108363.

(35.) Yale University, Religious Studies, “Course Listing,” http://religiousstudies.yale.edu/course-listings.

(36.) One may note that Confucianism does not appear in the description of the course “Lecture on World Religions and Ecology: Asian Religions.” However, since it is taught by Mary Evelyn Tucker, a well-known scholar on Confucian spirituality (she coedited with Tu Weiming a two-volume book on Confucian spiritual thought and practice) and an expert on Confucianism and ecology, one may infer that Confucianism is very likely to be one of the Asian religions discussed in the course. For Tucker’s work, please see Tucker and Weiming, Confucian Spirituality, and Mary Evelyn Tucker and John H. Berthrong, Confucianism and Ecology: The Interrelation of Heaven, Earth, and Humans, Religions of the World and Ecology (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions, 1998). The latter is part of a series titled “World Spirituality: An Encyclopedic History of the Religious Quest.”

(38.) University of Pennsylvania, “Department of Religious Studies Course Offerings,” https://www.sas.upenn.edu/religious_studies/pc/course/2012C/RELS001.

(39.) Duke University, “Religion Department Different Religious Traditions,” http://religiondepartment.duke.edu/undergraduate/three-religious-traditions.

(40.) Duke University, “Religion Department New/Noteworthy Courses,” http://religiondepartment.duke.edu/undergraduate/new-courses.

(41.) Princeton University, “Department of Religion Undergraduate Announcement 2011–12,” http://www.princeton.edu/ua/departmentsprograms/rel/.

(43.) There is no ranking of religious studies or theology programs in US News & World Report, nor is there a commonly used ranking of theology PhD programs today. The 1995 National Research Council ranking was the last official one, and it combines religious studies programs with divinity school programs. For a more recent assessment, see R. R. Reno’s personal ranking of theology programs. R. R. Reno, “Best Schools for Theology,” First Things: The Journal of Religion, Culture and Public Life, August 30, 2006.

(45.) Princeton Theological Seminary, “Princeton Theological Seminary 2007–2008 Catalogue,” 65, https://our.ptsem.edu/UploadedFiles/pdf/Catalogue2007-2008.pdf.

(46.) University of Chicago, Divinity School, “Faculty Profiles,” http://divinity.uchicago.edu/faculty/yu.shtml.

(47.) John H. Berthrong and Evelyn Nagai Berthrong, Confucianism: A Short Introduction (Oxford: Oneworld, 2000); John H. Berthrong, All under Heaven: Transforming Paradigms in Confucian-Christian Dialogue (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994).

(49.) D. G. Hart, The University Gets Religion: Religious Studies in American Higher Education (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 10.

(50.) Hart, University Gets Religion, 10. A similar trajectory can be found in the institutionalization of religious studies in Britain, although the growth of the discipline there has not been nearly as swift as in the United States; see King, Turning Points in Religious Studies.

(52.) American Academy of Religion, “A Brief History of the American Academy of Religion,” http://www.aarweb.org/About_AAR/History/default.asp.

(54.) American Academy of Religion, “Brief History,” http://www.aarweb.org/about/annualreport/AR2006.pdf. This was very likely posed before the release of new figures on AAR members in 2006.

(55.) American Academy of Religion, “American Academy of Religion Annual Report 2006,” 21, www.aarweb.org/Publications/Annual_Report/2006.pdf.

(56.) Ibid., 2.

(57.) American Academy of Religion, “Confucian Traditions Group Program Unit Information,” http://www.aarweb.org/meetings/annual_meeting/program_units/PUinformation.asp?PUNum=AARPU016.

(58.) I was a participant in the Religious Status of Confucianism panel at the 2007 AAR meeting; my paper was titled “Is Confucianism a Religion in China?”

(59.) I thank Keith Knapp, cochair of the Confucian Traditions Group, for this valuable information.

(p.207) (60.) As a sociologist who studies Confucianism, I have attended all of these conferences. Most of the time I have been either the only one studying Confucianism as a religion among sociologists of religion (at the ASA, SSSR, and ASR) or the only sociologist among scholars from other disciplines who study Confucianism as a religion (AAR and AAS).