Comparative Religious Essays

Comparative Religious Essays-80
Thus there was a kind of vertical division between state and people in relation to transcendence.This relationship to transcendent authority was very different from that of other so-called Axial Age civilizations which often integrated states and believers vertically through the clergy.

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Thus, in addition to disguising alternative approaches to transcendent power among the populace, it provided opportunities for elites to participate in popular activities as long as they also participated at least nominally in orthodox activities such as the state cult or the lineage order.

Periodically, both the state and the elite conducted campaigns to sweep out popular religions that were not state-oriented or part of the official state-cult, such as those led by official Chen Hongmou in the eighteenth century.

Second, as Anthony Yu has pointed out, the Chinese emperor’s power was reinforced by the cult of the ancestor—what we now call lineage ideology—which he had helped to cultivate.

Thus, in the cosmic realm of the relations between Heaven and Earth, the emperor derived his sovereign power from Heaven; in the realm of human relations, however, he derived it from a non-transcendent but no less powerful cult of the imperial ancestor, who was also endowed with sacral potency.

But these campaigns tended to drive many of the ideas and practices related to alternative conceptions and popular access to Heaven still deeper into popular culture, where they mingled and often camouflaged themselves in the thicket of popular religiosity.

There, it was difficult to execute the policy that the minister of the state of Chu had counseled: “to cut the communications between Heaven and Earth” so as to prevent “each household from indiscriminately performing for itself the religious observances.” Behind the translucent canopy, popular religiosity turned out to be a vibrant field of communication and negotiation, accommodation and adaptation, camouflage and resistance between state orthodoxy and the popular cultural nexus.

But if the institutions of official religion and Confucianism were controlled relatively successfully by the imperial state, its reach into popular society was much more limited and intermittent.

The vertical division that I am suggesting between orthodoxy and popular society was by no means clear cut.

And such is what is meant by cutting the communication between Heaven and Earth. He argues that the king himself was the most important shaman and that he and his priests sought to monopolize access to the sacred authority of Heaven.

In other words, the emperor, aided by his ritual specialists, claimed a monopoly on communication with the sacred powers vis-à-vis not only other clergy but the people as well.


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