Religion and the Making of Modern East Asia

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Religion and the Making of Modern East Asia.

By Thomas David DuBois. Cambridge:

Cambridge Univ. Press, 2011. Pp. xii, 259.

55 [pounds sterling]/ $90; paperback 17.99 [pounds sterling]/ $27.99.

This book is part of a series of introductory textbooks that adopt "New Approaches to Asian History," the "new approach" in this case being the role of religion in the modern history of East Asia. After a brief introduction, in which Thomas DuBois emphasizes the similarities between religions and compares the historical role of religion in Asia to that of Christianity in Europe, the author divides the book into roughly parallel sections on China and Japan. The first section on each country contains a brief outline of its religious background and early history, but the focus is on events from the beginning of the Chinese Ming dynasty (1368) and from the closing stages of the Japanese civil war period in the mid-sixteenth century. The final chapters bring us to the end of the twentieth century and the "globalization of Asian religion."

To cover so much ground so clearly and entertainingly in such a limited number of pages is a tremendous achievement. The achievement is the greater because valuable space is, quite rightly, spent on basic explanations of essential background factors such as the differences between Buddhism in South and East Asia and the life of Confucius. This space is not wasted, but it is presumably the main reason why some important points were left uncovered, or largely ignored.

First, there is hardly anything on Korea. In fact, it would have been more truthful to replace "East Asia" in the title with "China and Japan. …