East Asian Thought
Potential Paper Topics

  1. Confucianism is typically regarded as a system of personal and social ethics, but some (such as Herbert Fingarette in Confucius: The Secular as Sacred) maintain that it is also a profoundly religious tradition. Explore the religious dimensions of Confucianism and explain its contributions to the history of religion in China, East Asia, and/or the world.

  2. Both the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi have complicated textual histories, involving multiple authors and significantly different versions of the text. Explore the evolution of one of these texts and explain its overall significance with regard to the Chinese intellectual tradition.

  3. Discuss at least three Daoist solutions to the problem of sociopolitical discord as presented in texts and/or traditions such as the Daodejing, the Zhuangzi, Huang-Lao, and Organized Daoism (a.k.a. Religious Daoism).

  4. The “School of Legalism” (Fajia) was so damaged by the supposed harshness of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE) that few in post-Qin China self-identified as a Legalist, though it did continue to exert a tremendous influence on China (and by extension Korea and Japan) for the next two millennia, up to and including the present. Explore the Legalist influences on either pre-modern or modern East Asian civilization.

  5. The transmission of Buddhism from India to East Asia involved both a “Buddhist transformation of East Asia” and an “East Asian transformation of Buddhism.” Explore a particular aspect of this transformation by focusing on one of the following topics:
     the impact of Confucianism and/or Daoism on the development of Chinese Buddhism
     the impact of Buddhism on the evolution of Confucianism or Daoism
    the creation of a distinctly Chinese form of Buddhism, such as Huayan, Tiantai, Chan or Pure Land
    the synthesis of the Chan and Pure Land traditions over the past millennium
    the history behind the myth of Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch of the Chan tradition
    the transmission of Chinese Buddhism to Korea, Japan and/or Vietnam

  6. Discuss the historical relationship between Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism. Should these traditions be considered fundamentally distinct, or do they function as three essential perspectives on the Chinese conception of “truth” or “reality” that cannot be adequately expressed by any one of the three traditions on its own?

  7. Who were the “Syncretists” and how did their cosmology provide a foundation for the “syncretic” approach to Chinese thought suggested in the previous question?

  8. Explore the historical conditions that led to the development of Neo-Confucianism during the Song Dynasty (960-1279).

  9. Discuss the impact of Zhu Xi’s Neo-Confucianism on China’s civil service examination, its sociopolitical system, and/or the Confucian culture of the literati class.

  10. How did Zhu Xi’s establishment of “orthodox” Confucianism in the previous question lead to Wang Yangming’s reconceptualization of the relationship between knowledge and action? Which, if either, do you feel captures the spirit of Mencius’ theory of human nature?