Making Religion, Making the State: The Politics of Religion in Modern China

By Yoshiko Ashiwa; David L. Wank | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Positioning Religion in Modernity:
State and Buddhism in China

YOSHIKO ASHIWA


Modernity and the Creation of the Space of Religion

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were a time in Asia of shaping modernity by, actively or passively, reshaping Western modernity. This dynamic transformation involved various projects that demanded the abandonment or reform of previous ideologies, systems, institutions, and consciousness. One of the projects of this modernity was religion. The term “religion” was translated from European languages into Asian ones, creating such neologisms as shūkyō, zongjiao, and agama that spread among intellectuals and political elites in Asia, who quickly adapted “religion” into their modern thinking as a necessary space for the making of a modern state. Therefore, in seeking a modern state, a space of religion newly emerged as part of this indispensable apparatus of modernity. The space of religion was constituted mainly by two actors. One was politicians and state officials, who promulgated modern constitutions, laws, and regulations regarding religion, often through conflicts and tensions linked to local politics and value systems. The other was reformist religious leaders and laypersons, who advocated the making of modern teachings, disciplines, and organizations within the established world religions, such as Buddhism and Christianity, in cooperation with or opposition to state elites.

Hence, a space of religion emerges through modern state formation. This dynamic process involves the efforts to position religion undertaken by both religious reformers and state elites. In considering this process, this chapter explores several questions. How do the state and modern nation system relate to and mutually compose each other? How does the

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