Religious Harmony in ChinaA
survey of the major religions of China with a particular
focus on self-cultivation as the key to establishing harmony in the
(Confucianism), living in harmony with the forces of nature (Daoism),
and realizing harmony with the totality of space and time (Buddhism).
The distribution of grades for the course is as follows:
You final grade will ultimately depend on my assessment of
in each of the above areas, though the following descriptions should
you with a rough idea of the defining characteristics of students
particular grade ranges:
A-/A Possesses a deep understanding of
and themes of the course. The “A” student is able to consistently
identify and explain key ideas in the readings, develop genuine
into the broader significance of these concepts, and demonstrate a high
level of intellectual engagement in class discussions.
B-/B/B+ Demonstrates a serious
commitment to the
(i.e. attendance and participation) and a strong grasp of the major
and themes but with less depth and/or consistency than the “A” student.
C-/C/C+ Demonstrates a reasonable
effort to attend
and participate in discussions as well as a basic grasp of the course
D Demonstrates a minimal commitment to
a weak grasp of basic concepts and themes.
F Fails to demonstrate an acceptable
in the course through low attendance, inability to discuss basic
and themes, missed assignments and/or plagiarized work.
Your participation mark will be based on your
ability to demonstrate that you have made a sincere attempt to read and
understand the assigned material. Although the quality of your comments will
obviously be taken into consideration, all attempts to seriously engage the
readings—from sharing your perspective on the material to simply asking a
relevant question—will enhance your grade. Although your mark will ultimately depend on my subjective evaluation of
the quantity and quality of your comments, you may reasonably expect to receive
at least a “B” if you attend class regularly and frequently participate in class
discussions; superior performance in both areas will result in an “A”, whereas
inferior performance will result in a “C” or less.
will be a 6-page essay (1,500-word minimum) for each of the three main
traditions covered in the course: Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism.
All papers should be submitted online @ Blackboard/Assignments;
due dates are listed on the syllabus and your grade will go down one
degree (e.g. from B+ to B) for each day that the essay is late. Please
note that you
must provide appropriate citations for both direct and indirect
using either Chicago Style footnotes and MLA brackets and bibliography. If you have any doubts regarding what
does not constitute plagiarism, please refer to the college’s plagiarism policy in the Student Handbook.
Essays that contain significant instances of plagiarism will receive a 0 and be
reported to the Office of Academic Affairs.
Essay 1 ~ Daoism
Living in Harmony with the Forces of Nature
Explain how the Daoist principle of “living in
harmony with the forces of nature” is exemplified in each of these four areas
of practice, supporting your argument with references to Saihung’s training in The
Wandering Taoist as well as at least four academic sources. Does this
principle unite the four areas of practice into a coherent tradition or is
Daoism simply a general term for a collection of distinct approaches to
religious cultivation? For more details, see the Essay 1 Rubric below.
Taoism became a complex, pluralistic system in
the forty centuries since its legendary beginnings. It is concerned with four
major areas: the philosophical (Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, for example),
the ritualistic (temple worship of countless gods and goddesses), the
talismanic (sorcery and magic to ward off evil), and the ascetic (the tradition
of gaining immortality or spiritual enlightenment through elixirs or
meditation). This is simply a rough division; most Taoist sects combine the
four in varying proportions. Almost all orders, for example, maintained public
temples that both served their constituencies and brought financial support for
more esoteric practices. (The Wandering Taoist, xix-xxx)
Essay 2 ~ Buddhism
Although numerous schools of Chinese Buddhism had developed
by the end of the Tang dynasty (618-907), most were fatally weakened by the
collapse of the Tang with the exception of the Chan and Pure Land traditions,
which gradually merged into a generic form of Buddhism that continues to represent
mainstream Chinese Buddhism to this day. While both approaches pursue the same
ultimate goal — realizing harmony with the totality of space-time (i.e., nirvana) — Chan’s
emphasis on “self power” (reaching enlightenment through one’s own efforts) and
Pure Land’s focus on “other power” (relying on the spiritual power of buddhas
and bodhisattvas) would appear to be mutually exclusive. Discuss the
relationship between these two approaches and explain why they can — or cannot — be
harmoniously integrated into a coherent and comprehensive approach to Buddhism
that is consistent with the teachings of the historical Buddha. Your paper must
include references to Guo Jun’s Essential Chan Buddhism and at least four
academic sources. For more details, see the Essay 2 Rubric below.
Realizing Harmony with the Totality of Space-Time
3 ~ Confucianism
Establishing Harmony in the Human Realm
As Mario Poceski notes in Introducing Chinese
Religions, Confucianism is “a somewhat amorphous tradition that lacked many
of the trappings and institutions of organized religion,” but also includes
“many aspects … that are either explicitly or implicitly religious.” So is the Confucian focus on “establishing harmony in the human realm”
merely a kind of “social philosophy” or does it represent a
genuinely “religious” path of spiritual cultivation? Your essay should include
an academic definition of religion (to help explain why Confucianism is or is
not a religion) as well as references to Tu Weiming’s Centrality and
Commonality and at least four academic
sources. You may wish to consider the religious significance
of some or all of the following concepts: ren (humaneness), li
(ritual propriety), Heaven (as a deity and/or a cosmic force), ancestor
worship, self-cultivation, the Confucian sage, the Confucian temple, and the ultimate
Confucian goal of establishing social, political and cosmic harmony. For more details, see the Essay 3 Rubric below.
Chinese Religion in Practice
Although the academic study of religion often focuses
on theoretical concepts (such as the core beliefs of a religious tradition), it
is also important to understand the relationship between theory and practice.
You will therefore attend at least one event in the “Contemplative Series” that is hosted by the Religious Studies
department each semester and at least one Chinese religious service.
|Contemplative Event Paper
Every semester, the Religious Studies department
hosts a number of “Contemplative Events,” each of which features a brief talk
by an experienced practitioner of a particular tradition (religious or
secular), followed by a meditative exercise and open discussion. After
attending the event of your choice, you will write a paper that explores the
religious significance of the exercise with regard to at least one Chinese tradition.
For example, you might attend a Hindu event but discuss how the meditative exercise
relates to a particular form of Chinese meditation (Confucianism, Daoism and
Buddhism each have distinct forms of meditation); or you might attend a secular
“mindfulness” session and discuss the general significance of meditation within
Chinese religion. One way or another, your paper should reflect on the role of
religious practice and/or religious experience in the Chinese tradition. Dates
for this term’s Contemplative Events are provided on the syllabus. For more
details on the essay requirements see the Contemplative Event Rubric below.
Temple Visit Paper
Arrangements will be made to visit two local
Buddhist temples: Foguangshan, which has a Chan orientation but draws on the entire
Chinese Buddhist tradition, and the Pure Land Center and Buddhist Library,
which focuses on faith-based practices but includes a short meditation in its
weekly service. (You may also choose to attend a different Chinese religious service,
though unfortunately there are no Daoist or Confucian temples in the area.) After
attending the service of your choice, you will write a paper that provides a general summary of the service as well as a detailed description of a
specific ritual (or other element of the service) that you found particularly
interesting. You should then explore the significance of the ritual/element through
references to at least three academic sources. Your paper should include references
to a conversation with at least one member of the congregation and it should conclude
with a discussion of how the temple visit, together with your additional
research, helped you develop a deeper understanding of Chinese Buddhism (or
Chinese religion more generally). For more details on the essay requirements
see the Temple Visit Rubric below. (Note: if you attend both services, you may do a
comparative analysis of the two services or compare a specific ritual/element from each.)
Final Exam will focus on one or more essay-style questions that will be distributed prior to the exam.
- Poceski, Mario. Introducing Chinese Religions. London: Routledge, 2009.
- Deng Ming-Dao. Chronicles of Tao: The Secret Life of a Taoist Master. San Francisco: HarperOne, 1993. (Note: we will read Part 1: The Wandering Taoist.)
- Guo Jun. Essential Chan Buddhism: The Character and Spirit of Chinese Zen. Rhinebeck, NY: Monkfish Book Publishing Company, 2013.
- Tu, Weiming. Centrality and Commonality: An Essay on Confucian Religiousness. New York: State University of New York Press, 1989.
additional readings are available online @ Blackboard/Readings.
Office Hours & Contact Inrormation
Mario Poceski, Introducing Chinese Religions
Routledge, 2009), 35-6.