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  • Confucianism, a Habit of the Heart: Bellah, Civil Religion, and East Asia ed. by Philip J. Ivanhoe, Sungmoon Kim
  • Ori Tavor (bio)
Philip J. Ivanhoe and Sungmoon Kim, editors. Confucianism, a Habit of the Heart: Bellah, Civil Religion, and East Asia. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2016. ix, 235 pp. Hardcover $80.00, isbn 978-1-4384-6013-0. Paperback $24.95, isbn 978-1-4384-6012-3.

The collected volume Confucianism, A Habit of the Heart, edited by Philip J. Ivanhoe and Sungmoon Kim, is the product of a conference in honor of Robert Bellah that took place at the City University of Hong Kong in 2011. Bellah, who received his training in a joint sociology and Far East languages program, began his career by studying Japanese religion but rose to prominence with the publication of his 1967 essay, “Civil Religion in America,” in which he argues that American culture is imbued with a religious dimension that can be differentiated from its various organized religious traditions. This entity, which Bellah calls “civil religion,” lacks the formal institutions of traditional religion, but it pervades throughout culture and, “commands special kind of reverence,” and can thus be understood as a “habit of the heart,” namely “the underlying, unofficial, often unselfconscious assumptions, orientations, beliefs, practices, symbols, and styles of reasoning that inform, shape, and guide life in society” (pp. 1–2). Drawing inspiration from this concept, the main goal of this book is to ascertain whether Confucianism can be regarded as the civil religion of East Asian societies. As discussed by Ivanhoe and Kim in their Introduction, while it originally emerged in pre-imperial China, Confucianism might be suited for this role as it spread throughout East Asia to eventually become an innate component, a “habit of the heart,” of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultures, a set of “general moral principles, life orientations and aims, and styles of reasoning describing what a good person and good society are like and how one fosters personal moral development and social harmony” (p. 3).

The book offers ten essays, including a closing contribution by Bellah himself, which can be roughly divided into two sections. Chapters 1–5 discuss the recent revival of Confucianism in China and its potential to serve as the foundation for a civil religion in China and beyond. In chapter 1, Fenggang Yang surveys the recent attempts by Mainland New Confucians (MNC) to reinvent Confucianism as a political, spiritual, and moral system that can function as an alternative to Christian-inspired individualistic philosophy that stands in the base of Western liberal democracy. After outlining the limitations of this project, Yang presents his own version of a potential civil religion, which will draw on the ideational and institutional resources offered by Christianity and combine them with Confucian elements in order to serve as the basis for a global civil religion (p. 43). In chapter 2, Sebastian Billioud draws on his fieldwork and argues that certain Confucian components, which [End Page 165] he defines as a “thin Confucian religiosity,” have already been incorporated into the doctrines and practices of other religious institutions to such an extent that it may now serve as the basis for a common civil religion, as long as it is promoted by grassroots organizations and communities and not enforced by the state as part of a top-down effort (p. 64). In contrast, chapters 3–5 offer a more pessimistic account. In chapter 3, Peng Guoxiang identifies two potential threats to the possibility of establishing Confucianism as a civil religion: the spread of commercialized Confucianism and its politicization by the proponents of Chinese nationalism and by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as a vehicle for authoritarian rule. He argues that the only hope for Confucianism lies in the success of its spread to the West, where it can serve as a base for a global civil religion devoid of any Chinese nationalistic and ethnocentric characteristics (p. 82). In chapter 4, Anna Sun links the reasons behind the recent revival of Confucianism in Mainland China, namely its usefulness as a perfect cultural symbol that has the aura of religiosity without having an actual popular base or institutional...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 165-168
Launched on MUSE
2018-05-11
Open Access
No
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