Chinese Religions in World Religions Textbooks

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Department 1

Religious Studies


Religions of China are routinely given short shrift in world religions textbooks. It would be foolish to expect equity in these matters, but when traditions important to a large percentage of the world's populations are accorded only a fraction of the pages devoted to that upstart Mediterranean cult—I am speaking, of course, of Christianity—one naturally begins to ask questions. Such books are thicker in their treatment of “the center of the world,” that fertile spiritual navel from which emerged the so-called Abrahamic traditions, and become thinner and thinner as they move toward the “barren” Pacific Rim, where civilization gradually fades away into the amorphous oceans. There one reaches that distant marginal edge where things appear smaller from a distance, like the “Small World” of diminutive foreign peoples in Disneyland—which perhaps not coincidentally was created in the twentieth century at roughly the same time as were the reified “isms” of many textbooks. It is perhaps not accidental that Disneyland has been a venue for the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion. After the meeting, when one leaves the Magic Kingdom, one is still in the Magic Kingdom. [excerpt]

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