Workshop on Chinese Thought

Friday, November 6, from 2-5pm
Religious Studies Library, Sycamore Hall 224

Presenter 1

Aaron Stalnaker, Associate Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Indiana University

"Mastery as the Fruit of Shared Practices"

photo of Aaron Stalnaker

In this paper I argue that the Confucian daò should be understood as a practice-centered tradition of religiosity and politics. According to early Ru sources, following the way requires teachers and students to engage in long-term relationships of practical training in crucial arts such as ritual and music, together with textual study and a communal life in the study group. Mastery of these arts and practices, when properly integrated together, constitute mastery of the daò as a whole. Confucian teaching relationships, consequently, should be interpreted as pedagogical and indeed psychagogical (analogous to the “training of souls” in ancient Mediterranean thought). And Confucian analysis of the transmission of traditions of practice suggests that while some practices, such as ritual, are crucial to the cultivation of virtuous skill mastery, a greater variety of practices, such as archery, have the potential to be practiced so that they contribute to real mastery, even if they are more vulnerable to failure and deformation. Thus the early Ru see a spectrum of practices from the most humanly essential and generally valuable, on the one hand, to the most narrow and inessential, on the other, with important consequences for thinking about how best to approach and understand a variety of human activities that many already perform. My approach to these issues is to interpret the early Ru as “practice theorists” in their own right, rather than as exemplifying some contemporary theory such as that of Pierre Bourdieu.

Click here for a copy of the paper

Aaron Stalnaker is an associate professor of Religious Studies, Philosophy, and East Asian Languages and Cultures at Indiana University. He studies ethics and philosophy of religion, giving serious attention to both Chinese and Western theories and practices. He is the author of Overcoming Our Evil: Human Nature and Spiritual Exercises in Xunzi and Augustine (Georgetown University Press, 2006), a comparative study of different models of moral and religious personal formation. He recently co-edited Religious Ethics in a Time of Globalism: Shaping a Third Wave of Comparative Analysis (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). His current research concerns the idea of virtuous mastery in early Confucian thought, especially as it relates to the ethics of authority and dependence.

Presenter 2

Lionel M. Jensen, Associate Professor, Department of East Asian Languages & Cultures, University of Notre Dame

"Zhu Xi: Place, Phenomenon and Possession"


photo of Lionel M. Jensen

In this paper I attend to the neglected world of popular practices within which Zhu Xi lived, presenting a more complex and human portrait of a philosopher embedded in a twelfth-century vernacular cosmology of demons and spirits in which he alone was able to communicate with Kongzi. In so doing, this investigation reveals that Zhu’s prescriptive tradition of the cosmic legacy, daotong 道統, was built upon rites of spirit possession and commemoration of the dead. By means of this regimen, it shows, Zhu summoned the spirit of Kongzi and the ghosts of earlier learned men, thereby conferring immediate legitimacy upon his learning and demonstrating that he considered the everyday and the supernatural to be inextricable. The paper argues as well that the physical location of Fujian’s mountains and riverine lowlands provided material inspiration for Zhu’s meditative and breathing practices and ensured the magical efficacy of the network of village shrines he established to commemorate heroes throughout the southern provinces.

Click here for a copy of the paper

Lionel M. Jensen is Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Notre Dame, and Faculty Fellow of the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies, the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, the Liu Institute of Asia and Asian Studies, as well as an Affiliate of the Center for Civil and Human Rights. His research is identified closely with the intellectual history of “Confucianism”; however, his interests and published work extend from ancient, through medieval, modern and even contemporary topics. He has conducted research into Chinese religion and thought, contemporary economy and politics, human rights, folklore, early Sino-western contact, popular cults, comparative mythology, nationalism and the culture industry. He is author of Manufacturing Confucianism: Chinese Traditions and Universal Civilization (1997, now in its third printing), recognized in 1998 as the Best First Book in the History of Religions by the American Academy of Religion. As well, Jensen has edited or co-edited five other books: China In and Beyond the Headlines (2012, Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2013), China’s Transformations: the Stories beyond the Headlines (2007), China Off Center: Readings on the Margin of the Middle Kingdom (2002), China Beyond the Headlines (2000), and Early China 20 (1997). He is currently completing his latest book, Re-enchanting Confucianism: Mythistory and the Supernatural in the Making of a Tradition while working on another, Muscular Confucianism: Politics and “Culturetainment” in China’s Soft Power Experiment. For more than two decades, Jensen has taught courses in Chinese history, religion, philosophy, politics, and society at Notre Dame, the University of Colorado, and the University of Pennsylvania, and has been recognized for his achievements in teaching. In 2010 he received Notre Dame’s Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C. Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Presenter 3

Macabe Keliher, Jerome Hall Postdoctoral Fellow, Indiana University Maurer School of Law

"Meanings of Li and Ritual Theory"


photo of Macabe Keliher

This paper is the first chapter of my current book project on the Manchu transformation of li (often translated as “ritual” or “rites”) in the making of the Qing dynasty. This chapter explores the historiographical understandings of li, and finds five different interpretations: ritual, cosmology, social order, law, and administrative order. The fifth category of li as administrative order is well recognized, and scholars are quick to point to the classics in highlighting the importance of this aspect of li. What it actually meant in practice, however, is a lacuna addressed by this book. The chapter then discusses how li changed over time, and situates the book among a new generation of scholars recognizing the indeterminate nature of li, which could be manipulated and remade in relation to different circumstances. Given this indeterminacy, the chapter then asks how to investigate li. Although equating li to ritual is resisted throughout the book, advances in ritual theory do provide useful analysis to help understand the nature and practices of li. The last section thus explores three important theories of ritual and the contributions and advances the book makes in the study of ritual and ritual-like activity.

Click here for a copy of the paper

Macabe Keliher is a historian of early modern and modern China. His research examines the formation of administrative legal orders, with a particular emphasis on state-making and the role of culture. His work on ritual and law in Qing China highlights a sophisticated legal code used to standardize and regulate political and administrative operations, which illustrates characteristics of a rational bureaucracy in early modern China. He received his PhD from Harvard University in History and East Asian Languages and is currently a Jerome Hall Postdoctoral Fellow at Indiana University Maurer School of Law.