Chinese religions are now practiced throughout the world. Carried by Chinese migrants, they have for centuries served to establish the ethnic identity of communities throughout the Chinese diaspora. In more recent years, however, Chinese religions have been disseminated far beyond the boundaries of Chinese ethnic communities, as increasing numbers of non-Chinese adopt Chinese spiritual practices and adapt them to their own culture. The confluence of Asian and Western religious cultures thus swirls in dynamic feedback loops. Chinese religions are both contributors to and recipients of a global search for transcendence.

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Richard Madsen: The global quest in a new axial age

How can we relate religion to the globe? Is there any place for religion in the trend of globalization? Most of the great spiritual leaders, such as Jesus Christ, Confucius, the Buddha, emerged in the same period which Karl Jasper called the “Axial Age.” It was about twenty-five hundred years ago when warfare and mayhem tore people apart. And yet, their cultures evolved — people no longer saw themselves as simple tribes, but as a group in a connected world under the command of universal principles. Richard Madsen, the author of the above article, thinks that the world may enter a “new axial age” where a spiritual global quest begins. Let’s see how Madsen explains.

Yikfai Tam: The spread of Chinese religion in the West

Yikfai Tam explains how the West meets the East by the example of Buddhism. Religious leaders promote their religion arduously, while western people have the need of seeking alternative faith. Globalization of religion is not a one-way direction process. Indeed, it is a bilateral encounter.

Fenggang Yang: Universal religions are growing faster

Fenggang Yang draws our attention to the growth of religious institutions. The institutionalized universal religions, Christianity in particular, are thriving in China recently. Although “institutions” are not the traditional form of Chinese religion, Yang reminds us not to ignore their development.

Kristofer Schipper: The way of Chinese religion

“With lots of money and noise, McDonald’s has now 800, 1000 or 1200 outlets in China, and KFC about as much. But there are 35,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States alone.” The spread of Chinese culture in the west, as Kristofer Schipper wittily describes, is a “Chinese expansion.” He borrows concepts of Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism – the Three Teachings in China – to elaborate how Chinese religion expand. The expansion is just the spontaneous way of Chinese religion.

Robert P. Weller: Can Chinese religious groups adapt to the Western society?

The spread of Chinese religion in the West is no doubt effective and rapid. However, can the religious groups consolidate their presence in Western society? Can they survive long enough to nurture their second generation? What problems are they facing now? Is there any other possibility of expansion? Let’s see how Robert P. Weller explains.

Richard Madsen: Between the local and the universal

In this website, we have shown various local forms of Chinese religion (local gods, local goddesses, ancestor worship, fengshui, different social organizations etc.). But what holds these local traditions together over the last twenty-five hundred year? What makes Chinese culture fascinating, as Richard Madsen explains, is that “they had a way of having people – these rural peasants – go beyond themselves and become part of a larger system.” This innate feature of Chinese tradition is compatible with nowadays universal values and provides the ground for globalization. For more information, please watch Madsen’s interview.

Kristofer Schipper: Chinese culture is not a threat

Will the “Chinese expansion” become a threat to world peace? Not likely, as Kristofer Schipper explains, “historically speaking, China has fought very few aggressive wars; that’s a fact, and they are not very good at it too.” Schipper supports his view with the examples of Korean War and Taiwan Strait conflict, and he offers a very intriguing macrohistory perspective.

Fenggang Yang: Our common humanity

Now is the time of globalization. Fenggang Yang calls for the action of breaking barriers between Chinese and the West. Instead of treating Chinese culture as exotic or alien, Fenggang Yang believes that “it’s better to see Chinese and Western societies to have greater commonalities than particularities,” and the differences should not “become obstacles for real understanding, for appreciation of the commonality of human nature, commonality of human behavior.” And so he wishes.