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A Conceptual History of Religion in Ancient and Medieval China

The project will focus on concepts in classical Chinese texts which prima facie belong into the word field of religion. It examines their meaning and their usage with regard to possible distinctions between sacrality and secularity, i.e. the constitution of a separate realm of religion without presupposing such a separation as given. The project will pay special attention to the emergence of a collective singular of religion as a possible basis for acknowledging a plural of beliefs. The textual basis of the project is the corpus of normative literature that came into being in the period from the Zhou (11th to 3rd century BC) to the Song (10th to 12th century) dynasty. It is assumed that texts in the zones of contact between the different schools of thought are of special interest because of the challenge to make concepts and arguments clear. The same holds true for texts where terminology itself becomes thematic.

Together with the research focussing on Japan and Korea, the project provides a perspective on a geographic region, which is frequently addressed as the antipode of the "West" and is of more than marginal importance in cross-cultural research. The project intends to counterbalance any exotisation of the "East" as well as any hegemonic imposition of "Western" concepts. It shall try to verify or refute the hypothesis that an understanding of religion based on the Abrahamitic traditions can be neither general nor merely culture-specific in all its aspects. In particular, it intends to show that the separation of secularity and sacrality as well as the concept of religion itself are not "Occidental" specificities, but also hold true for China, with implications for the understanding of Chinese modernity.

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