The article “The Social Organizations of Religious Communities in the Twentieth Century,” written by Vincent Goossaert in the volume Chinese Religious Life (Oxford University Press, 2011), pictures the contemporary Chinese religious landscape. China’s religious landscape is a hybrid system: (1) in which a “confessional” approach to religious affiliation, management, and academic discourse is superimposed on the Chinese religious culture; (2) in which people are labeled as either atheist or “believers” in one exclusive “religion” managed by a single institution, and; (3) in which cosmology, ritual, scriptures, practices of worship and spiritual cultivation, and temples and communities are pervasive but interconnected and organized in a very different way. This chapter traces how this hybrid system came into being, from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day.

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Vincent Goossaert: On plural orthodoxy in Chinese religion

Vincent Goossaert, the author of the above article, offers an alternative perspective of the Three Teachings in China – Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. Although the Three Teachings are considered equally “orthodoxy” in China, the main concern is not whether their doctrine is right or wrong, but the way of performing rituals appropriately. In other words, the key is how they are practiced: Confucianism venerates ancestors, Daoism constructs the ritual framework of popular religion, and Buddhism handles after-life world. It is the “practice” that matters. Let’s see how Goossaert explains the concept “orthopraxy.”

Kristofer Schipper: Inclusivity and exclusivity

China has so many religions. But how did they manage to side with each other so peacefully throughout the history? The understanding of “orthodoxy” in China is very different from the West. Kristofer Schipper explains, “For us, orthodoxy is something exclusive. If you’re an orthodox Jew, you stick to that […] But in China, orthodoxy is when everybody agrees that that is true, then it’s orthodoxy.” Schipper supports his claim with a very interesting example he found on the relics of a temple in Beijing. Please watch.

Vincent Goossaert: Types of organizations in Chinese religion

Religious groups in China do not necessarily appear in forms of churches or parishes. In the clip, Vincent Goossaert outlines three type of religious groups in China – “ascriptive groups,” “guilds,” and “congregations” – which differ largely from western understanding of religion. What are the differences between village temple and a certain cult of god or goddess? Why aren’t there clergies in the temples? Who are the ones that conduct pilgrimages? You may find the answers in Goossaert’s interview.