Thursday, June 02, 2005

Political Metaphors in Chinese Religion

Below, I'm pasting a description of the course I taught this past year at University of Pennsylvania; actually it was my course proposal for what is known as the Critical Writing Teaching Fellowship. I include it here because it conveys some sense of my interests, and it will be a continuing theme on this site:

In contemporary life, we are taught that religion and politics are separate realms of existence, but in traditional Chinese society, as in much of the pre-modern world, there was little clear distinction. In China, the Emperor was the Son of Heaven, the link between heaven, earth, and man. Since early times, the supernatural world was depicted as a complex bureaucracy, extending from the earthly bureaucracy in the capital. Paintings and statues of deities were often representations, and visualizations, of Chinese officialdom. Daoist priests, also representatives of this cosmic bureaucracy, presented memorials to these deities, just as Chinese officials presented them to the throne. The emperor, powerful families, and peripheral peoples all used the same legitimizing symbols.

In this course we will examine, discuss, and write about the various intersections between political and religious life in China, particularly the way political metaphors were employed in various religious contexts and how religious icons were exploited to legitimate political authority.


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