Religion and Beliefs
Envisioned as a direct follow-up discussion for the panel ‘Confucian Apologetics in the West before WWII,’ this round table is dedicated to the diffusion and promotion of Confucianism in the West from the origin of this dynamic up to today. By bringing together specialists of Confucianism in the modern world, our ambition is to open a discussion on the challenges set for and by the diffusion of Confucianism in the West – a phenomenon often difficult to grasp and to measure because of the very loose nature of Confucianism and its lack of publicity. Since it overlaps our classical categories of religion, philosophy, cultural tradition and even polity, Confucianism has long been a blind spot in the research concerned with the East-West circulation of ideas and ideologies.
Confucianism being generally considered as a system of thought or a tradition exclusive to Asian countries, the very idea of its diffusion to Western countries has long been disregarded. Yet, despite there is no obvious mass proselytism, Confucianism has subtly acquired a growing popularity in the past decades – a phenomenon that took many forms. The economic rise of China, preceded by Japan, and the four dragons since the end of the 1970s gave much credit to the discussions about the positive effects of Confucianism in modern economic systems. Many Confucian actors, primarily Chinese and Korean ones, have also been very active in interfaith dialogues (notably Confucian-Christian). Confucianism, furthermore, gained importance in European and American Universities departments, where it is studied, and sometimes eulogized, not only by specialists of religious studies but also by philosophers. Finally, Confucianism has been an essential element in Chinese political discourse and in Chinese strategy to acquire a soft power; ‘Confucius institutes’ have, for instance, been multiplying all around the world not without raising the question of how Confucian they there.
It is therefore our belief that the rise of Confucianism in the West ought to be clearly addressed and questioned. Our hope is to open up avenues of reflection to clarify who were and are the actors of this diffusion, as well as their methods and agendas. Besides, the recent indictment of Confucian institutes is but the last symptom of more global problem: the genuine political nature of Confucius’s journey to the West. Such a feature ought to be put in a historical and critical perspective.