David Jones & E.R. Klein, Eds., Asian Texts, Asian Contexts: Encounters with Asian Philosophies and Religions

By Lidke, Jeffrey S. | Southeast Review of Asian Studies, Annual 2011 | Go to article overview

David Jones & E.R. Klein, Eds., Asian Texts, Asian Contexts: Encounters with Asian Philosophies and Religions


Lidke, Jeffrey S., Southeast Review of Asian Studies


David Jones & E.R. Klein, eds., Asian Texts, Asian Contexts: Encounters with Asian Philosophies and Religions. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010. 287 pages.

This is an intelligent volume of quality scholarly essays that, collectively, provide pragmatic pedagogical wisdom on the infusion of Asian studies into college curricula. The biased--yet arguably correct--position of the editors is that Asian thought and practice ought to be an essential part of any college education. Their text reflects this view, providing non-specialists interpretive access to the primary philosophical and religious traditions of India, China, and Japan, along with common and well-tested pedagogical strategies for presenting this material to Western students.

The book is divided into three parts: "Encountering Asian Philosophies and Religions," "Texts," and "Contexts." "Encountering Asian Philosophies and Religions" includes only two essays, but they are both substantial contributions, written by prolific scholars of Asian Studies, John M. Koller and Roger T. Ames. In "The Importance of Asian Philosophy in the Curriculum," Koller gives four reasons for including Asian philosophy in undergraduate curricula: irst, knowledge of Asian philosophies is necessary for anyone who wants to understand the diverse ways in which a majority of the human race continue to understand themselves, others, and their world; second, Asian philosophies can help one cultivate self-understanding; third, Asian philosophies provide resources for developing one's own philosophical orientations; finally, a study of Asian philosophy enhances our ability to engage and develop alternative ways of constructing our worldviews. Koller then proceeds to introduce the basics of Indian and Chinese thought before offering one of the pinnacles of the volume: a list of ten questions to help educators select text for use in the classroom.

In the second essay in this section, "The Confucian Worldview: Uncommon Assumptions, Common Misconceptions," Roger Ames begins with a thought experiment, inviting his readers to imagine what the world would be like had the Chinese Empire engaged in the same extensive imperialist activities of the Western powers over the past three millennia. He concludes that this scenario would have resulted in a world guided by the ancient insights of Confucian thought instead of the Judeao-Christian epistemes that currently shape much of our global discourse and politics. In particular, Ames observes that over and against the dominant Western view of the person as singular and distinct from his or her environment, Confucian thought emphasizes the understanding of the individual as a "process" dynamically interwoven within a network of relations that define the individual as an inseparable part of a living, ever-changing, interconnected cosmos. His thoughtful essay teases out how this alternative conception of the "self" can be taught in the classroom.

"Texts" and "Contexts" discuss the two basic approaches by which teachers can introduce Asian philosophies and religions. "Texts" takes up three primary regions: India, China, and Japan. Essays on India include Vrinda Dalmiya's discussion of Bhagavad Gita, Jeffrey Dippmann's discussion of the Buddhist text Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra, and Tom Pynn's discussion of the essential texts, ontologies, and transformative disciplines of Samkhy and Yoga philosophy. All three authors are careful to tease out the intriguing parallels and distinctions between the ideas expressed in their respective texts and those of similar texts and traditions from the West, Dalmiya focusing on ethical decision making, Dippmann on the "human condition," and Pynn on the relationship of worldview to spiritual discipline and self-understanding. In the China section, Ronnie Littlejohn argues that the Daodejing is "too twisted" by historically contingent meaning and the attempt to validate standard philosophical preconceptions, and that we must learn to grasp it on its own self-referential terms. …

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