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Reviewed by:
  • The Encyclopedia of Taoism 2 volumes
  • Shawn Arthur (bio)
Fabrizio Pregadio, editor. The Encyclopedia of Taoism, 2 volumes. London: Routledge, 2008. 1551 pp. Hardcover $315.00, ISBN 978-0-700-71200-7. E-book $315.00, ISBN 978-0-203-69548-7.

Written over a dozen years, the Encyclopedia of Taoism was edited by Fabrizio Pregadio into a mammoth two-volume set that stands as a valuable addition to scholarship on Daoism. Forty-six authors contributed 841 entries, ninety illustrations, and twenty-eight tables on a wide variety of issues pertaining to Daoism. The majority of the Encyclopedia consists of one-to-five-page alphabetized entries that contain detailed treatments of a wide range of Daoist ideas, people, texts, history, and terms. To facilitate negotiating the Encyclopedia, Pregadio provides a useful “Synoptic Table of Contents” that organizes the contents into four sections.

First is the extensive, informative, and approachable “Overview” section, which lists sixty-nine entries. Subsections include brief introductions to the concept of Daoism, lineage issues, scriptures, cosmology, spirit beings, sacred sites, views of human beings and human society, organizations, religious practices and experiences, Daoism and Chinese thought, Daoism and Chinese society and culture, and Daoism outside of China. The “Overview” section of 191 pages is separate from the 1,112 pages devoted to the text’s main entries.

To provide a sense of the scope of Pregadio’s project, the “Taoist Universe” section lists 288 entries covering terms and ideas related to doctrine, transcendence, Daoist thought, cosmological imagery, deities, immortals, hagiographical texts, internal components of humans, ethics, temples, sacred mountains, and Daoism’s expansive textual corpora. The “History” section lists 246 entries about the major groups of people, movements, individuals, texts, and key terms associated with each dynasty. The “Religious Practice and Experience” section lists 238 entries that discuss nourishing life, meditation, alchemy, ritual, Daoism and Buddhism, miscellaneous terms related to religious ides and practices, and Daoist associations in China and Japan.

The text’s end matter consists of a variety of useful appendices: a compilation of reference works for each major period and subject addressed in the text, a [End Page 366] dynastic chronology, pinyin conversion charts, Daoist Canon concordances, a 202-page comprehensive international bibliography, and an index with more than five thousand entries. The table of contents, which groups entries historically and thematically, and the main body of entries will be most useful for specialists and graduate students because they are alphabetized by pinyin Chinese spellings,1 but the lengthy index is significantly more user-friendly if the precise Chinese term or text name listed in the body of entries is unknown.

There are two weaknesses with the Encyclopedia: limited scope within entries and lack of analysis of critical terms. Although the range of entries in this text is impressive, there is little attempt to present demographic data, brief comprehensive histories, or a thorough description for many of the entries about, for example, qi, sacred places, temples, ritual tools, or issues related to Daoist life. In fact, discussion of contemporary lived Daoism is rare. This is a reflection of the length limits imposed by such a project but also the text’s strong sino-philological focus, which follows the trajectory of the larger field of Daoist studies in that it predominately contains text-based, canonical descriptions with little analysis or anthropological or sociological information. Furthermore, there is little of the wealth of material published since 2000, especially from outside Europe and North America.

The more crucial issue at hand is the lack of critical reflection of accepted definitions of key terms—which do not necessarily reflect Chinese as much as Western ideas. As evidenced throughout the Encyclopedia, sino-philologists are particularly adept at analyzing how a term is used throughout a range of Chinese texts, but this practice often stops short of recognizing that the translations of these terms are critical for comparative and nonspecialist studies as well. Careful attention to their translated implications will shape how people understand the tradition.

The Encyclopedia’s translations are contentious at times, and some contributors rely on early missionary-created translations of terms—for example gui 鬼, which is translated throughout the text as “demon” rather than...


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