Confucianism, Rituals, and Modern Life
[International Conference] Confucianism, Rituals, and Modern Life
8-9 November 2019, Sungkyunkwan University, Korea
This international conference, to be held on the campus of Sungkyunkwan University, the historic heart of Korean Confucianism, and sponsored by the Sungkyun Institute of Confucian Studies and East Asian Philosophy (SICEP), will gather together leading scholars from around the world who will present their research and exchange ideas concerning the theory and practice of ritual in Confucianism and other major world traditions and their potential for enhancing modern life. The aim of the meeting is to explore traditional Confucian rituals in order to better understand the nature and values of ritual practice and apply such understanding to further appreciate aspects of contemporary life that illustrate the values of ritual, identify examples of modern ritual practice that can be improved by reflecting on traditional forms of ritual, and uncover areas of modern life that lack and can be improved through adopting or adapting traditional forms of ritual.
Michael Puett (Harvard University, Keynote)
Ritual and Religion Revisited
The concept of religion has recently become an object of strong critique. As numerous scholars have argued, the very concept comes from a particular reading of a particular tradition, and the attempt to build a field of study based upon such a restricted concept has resulted in, at best, a highly ethnocentric body of knowledge and, at worst, an implicitly imperialistic one. This paper attempts to respond to such critiques by arguing that instead of rejecting the concept, we need to resurrect it by building upon the understandings that emerged in other traditions. More specifically, I will explore the implications of such an approach by re-thinking our understandings of ritual, belief, and religion in general by means of ideas that arose in classical Chinese thought.
Taneli Kukkonen (NYU Abu Dhabi)
Ritual in Islam according to Al-Ghazālī
The academic study of Islamic ritual has largely focused on the present day and on empirical observation--that is to say, on anthropological fieldwork. This concentration on the external and the descriptive (as opposed to the internal and the prescriptive) is understandable, seeing as what Muslim authors themselves say about the various 'acts of worship' looks very different from the characterizations of ritual put forward by key 20th-century theorists of religion. In my talk, I examine what a leading Muslim scholar, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1056-1111) has to say about worship and its inner and outer dimensions. Al-Ghazali's theory of ritual is shown to be nuanced and distinctive, in how it links Greek theories of psychology and physiology to Muslim notions of character formation.
So Jeong Park (Sungkyunkwan University)
“Ritual and Music” Revisited
Anyone who understands Confucianism will notice that ritual is the central theme, but not many people properly draw attention to the fact that ritual and music are inseparable, and that music carries more weight than ritual. When music is discussed as a subject of Confucian philosophy, it is often misrepresented as merely an aid to help the ritual proceed in harmony. However, Confucius’ reflection on music was at the heart of innovation that made it possible to transform his ideas from the guardian of the Zhou ritual to the general philosophy of culture and politics. In this regard, music must be considered when attempting to bring relevancy to the Confucian ritual into today’s context.
The purpose of this paper is to reexamine “ritual/music (禮樂 lǐyuè),” conceived as indispensable complements each of the other and coined as a single compound term by Confucius. A review of pre-Confucius traditions reveals that the concept of “ritual/music (禮樂 lǐyuè)” was not identified in the ancient Zhou ritual system, but the product of Confucius’ philosophical work that reinterpreted the political and cultural structures of the Zhou. Thus, Confucius’ acknowledgement of “lǐyuè” should not be understood simply as an emphasis of “ceremonial music” or “musical accompaniment to rites” but as a proposal of Confucian political philosophy.
Confucius not only placed music on an equal ground to ritual in the process of conceptualizing “lǐyuè”, but affirmed it as essential for the completion of moral character and the fulfillment of social order by including it in the fundamental curriculum. In this sense, music is more important than ritual in Confucianism. A proper understanding of “lǐyuè” will help you understand Confucius’ intention in saying “moral completion through music,” and why his critics such as Mozi and Zhuangzi made “lǐyuè” the main target.
Geir Sigurðsson (University of Iceland)
Can Ritual Be Modern?Liquid Modernity, Social Acceleration and ‘Litual’
1. The Present Condition
Here I will outline the main ideas presented by two critics of late modernity, namely Zygmunt Bauman’s ‘liquid modernity’ and Hartmut Rosa’s ‘social acceleration’. Their analyses, which I consider mutually resonating, highlight some problematic features of late modernity, which most certainly find themselves in tension with anything resembling rituals or ritualistic behavior.
2. The Use and Abuse of Ritual
In this part, I will discuss some predominantly anti-globalizing tendencies in contemporary Europe that appear to stimulate a ritual resurgence, but, as I will argue, rather represent an exclusivist, nationalist and reactionary aspect of ritual, one that exemplifies the pejorative side of ritualism.
3. Reformulating Ritual as Confucian ‘Litual’
According to my interpretation of the ancient Confucian approach to li 禮, which encompasses what is usually understood as ‘ritual’ in a Western context, it is supposed to be flexible, accord with both time and circumstances, and its practitioners are responsible for its constant adaptation to new circumstances. I venture to call this ancient (predominantly pre-Qin) version of ritual ‘litual’.
4. Reintroducing a Neo-Daoist Approach to Confucian Ritual?
If there is enough time, I would like to briefly address the Neo-Daoist reading of Confucianism, especially as presented by Wang Bi in the Wei-Jin period. I believe that this reading, based on the ineffability of morality, reinforces the flexible interpretation that I provide in part 3.
To conclude, I want to suggest that a different understanding of ritual as ‘litual’, i.e. as li-inspired ritual, a flexible, adaptable, ‘creative and individualistic’, even critical kind of ritual, may not only stand a chance up against liquid modernity and social acceleration, but may even alleviate some of their more harmful effects.
Anna Sun (Kenyon College)
Global Confucian Rites in the 21st Century
This paper examines global Confucianism in the 21st century. Confucianism has long had a strong hold in East Asia, leaving distinct legacies in China, Korea, and Japan. It has also had significant impact in Southeast Asia, especially in Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia. In the 21st century, we see further developments of Confucianism in different regions of the world, especially with the greater mobility of people who now carry Confucianism with them as a treasured system of ethics, rituals, and subjective meaning.
It does not come as a surprise that today we see a great variety of Confucian rituals in this global context. Here I focus on two forms of Confucian rituals: rites for Confucius and rites for ancestral spirits. My comparative analysis is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the following countries and regions from 2008 to 2018: Mainland China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, and the United States. I suggest that contemporary Confucianism is a case of the increasing transformation of implicit religious identity into explicit religious identity in the development of transnational and global religious life.
Hwa Yeong Wang (Sungkyunkwan University)
Rituals for Women in Korean Confucianism
-Focusing on Uam Song Siyŏl-
This paper examines rituals for women in Korean Confucianism with a special focus on Song Siyŏl (宋時烈, 1607-1689), pen name Uam (尤庵). Confucian ritual propriety (ye 禮) connects past and present, appropriates communication between people, and provides foundation of social and political systems and practices. From the beginning of modern era, however, feminist scholars criticized Confucianism for its texts offered male-centered ritual and social institutes. Ritual propriety has been harshly criticized reproducing and stimulating gender inequality based on its male-centered ideal. Contemporary Confucian philosophers seemed to leave the historical baggage to ritual propriety that is expressed and changed according to time and space and that is subject to human misinterpretation or malpractices. Ritual propriety was rejected for being a vehicle or expression of its male-centered philosophy by both feminist and Confucian philosophers.
The debates over humaneness(in) and ritual propriety revealed the need of re-examination of the meaning and position of ritual propriety within Confucian philosophy and the need of feminist approach that brings women’s lived experience into the discussion of ritual propriety. The paper argues that Korean neo-Confucianism in the seventeenth century provides an invaluable insight for its unique interest and development of ritual learning (yehak 禮學). The ritual learning influenced not only on metaphysical world but also everyday life. Uam Song Siyŏl is a representative Confucian philosopher of the time. He succeeded the understanding of Kiho School and stressed actualization of righteous principles in reality. Uam also wrote sizable writings on women. Analysis of the philosophizing process of Uam’s understanding, appropriating and recreating of family rituals related to women will provide a way to imagine a feminist future of Confucian ritual propriety.
Colin Lewis (University of Colorado at Colorado Springs)
Xunzi's Ritual Model and Modern Moral Education
While the early Confucians were largely content to maintain the rituals of ancient kings as the core of moral education in their time, it is not obvious that contemporary humans could, or should, draw from the particulars of such a tradition. This essay examines impediments faced by a ritualized approach to moral education, how they might be overcome, and how a ritual method could be developed in modernity. I contend that a Confucian notion of ritual is both compatible with modern moral education and capable of making a distinct contribution, particularly in terms of how rituals can be used to structure and inculcate a shared climate of respect.
Soon-ja Yang (Chonnam University)
Harmony through Ritual and Music in the Xunzi: Between Distancing and Closeness
Xunzi believed that Confucian rituals (li 禮) provided a guideline for people to maintain a harmonious relationship with others and, at the same time, maintain a proper distance from them. People can live in peace by accepting the rituals, which distinguish them according to age, sex, ability, and so on. Xunzi’s rule of rituals emphasizes differences among people and distributes their status and roles according to such differences. Integration through rituals is achieved by individuals having a common belief in morality or religion.
However, it is challenging for people to share common beliefs about a certain symbol. This is because the relationship between signifier and signified is unstable, and accordingly the signified lends itself to various interpretations. The process of one’s generating “meaning” is a thoroughly personal undertaking, and is closed to others.
In my opinion, Xunzi’s concept of music can be viewed as a key to reducing the instability of communication by means of language. Communication through music is not linguistic, but non-propositional and non-conceptual. The interaction that occurs during rituals takes place not simply through language but through a holistic experience involving hearing, vision, touch, smell and so on.
Harmony through music in Xunzi’s view can be understood by Randall Collins's “physical copresence,” “emotional entrainment,” and “collective effervescence.” Most emotional confluence depends on the physical coexistence of the participants in the rituals. When people are physically present together, they can more easily identify the signals and physical expressions that emanate from each other. By sharing the rhythm of catching up with each other's movements and emotions and focusing on a common locus of attention, they can reach a state of intersubjectivity.
There also occurs a breakdown in the boundaries between “self” and “other” among those who share physical rhythms while listening to music in the same space. This can be explained by what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow.” When we are in the flow state, our thoughts, intentions, feelings, and all other senses are focused on one purpose. Focusing on the purpose allows us to enjoy the action itself, not its implications for other external ends. This autotelic action gives us a feeling of joy. One phenomenon seen in people who are in a state of joy is a loss of self-consciousness. By immersing all our psychological energy in an activity, we become part of a much larger system of activity. This breaking of boundaries allows us to feel a sense of community, even when we do not share any beliefs or concepts with each other. This is the “unifying what is common to us (hetong同)” described by Xunzi in my view. In the process of enacting rituals, dance helps us feel the flow state best, providing a stronger source for emotional bonds.
The fact that people share emotions through music, and thus break down the boundaries between themselves and others, does not guarantee that a common moral belief system will be formed between them. Nonetheless, although participants in a ritual interpret the symbols used in the ritual in different ways, they can feel united with others simply by joining in the same action and moving in rhythm with them. People who share this type of experience are more likely to form a common belief system. Therefore, harmony through music based on human commonality (tong 同) is a source for harmony through rituals based on their differences (fen 分) in status, age, gender, capabilities, and so on.
Eric L. Hutton (University of Utah)
On Ritual and Legislation
The Confucian tradition holds that its rituals were established by sages in the past. Focusing on that idea of the sage as a great designer of rituals, this paper engages in a comparison and contrast between the sage and a similar figure, namely the great legislator. By thinking through some of the challenges faced by lawmakers and the virtues that help them legislate well, we gain a better appreciation for what is so special about sages in Confucian thought, as well as an enhanced appreciation for good legislators. The paper ends by using the difference between legislating and designing rituals to highlight a set of challenges faced by those who would advocate designing new rituals to meet the demands of our modern age.