Billioud and Thoraval, “The Sage and the People”

In August, the Oxford University Press will release “The Sage and the People: The Confucian Revival in China,” by Sébastien Billioud (University Paris-Diderot, Sorbonne Paris Cité) and Joël Thoraval (Research Center on Modern and Contemporary China, School for Higher Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS)). The publisher’s description follows:

After a century during which Confucianism was viewed by academics as a relic of the imperial past or, at best, a philosophical resource, its striking comeback in Chinese society today raises a number of questions about the role that this ancient tradition might play in a contemporary context.

The Sage and the People is the first comprehensive enquiry into the “Confucian revival” that began in China during the 2000s. Based on extensive anthropological fieldwork carried out over eight years in various parts of the country, it explores the re-appropriation and reinvention of popular practices in fields as diverse as education, self-cultivation, religion, ritual, and politics.

The book analyzes the complexity of the “Confucian revival” within the broader context of emerging challenges to such categories as religion, philosophy, and science that prevailed in modernization narratives throughout the last century. Exploring state cults both in Mainland China and Taiwan, authors Sébastien Billioud and Joël Thoraval compare the interplay between politics and religion on the two shores of the Taiwan strait and attempt to shed light on possible future developments of Confucianism in Chinese society.

Smith, “Secular Faith”

In September, the University of Chicago Press will release “Secular Faith: How Culture has Trumped Religion in American Politics,” by Mark A. Smith (University of Washington). The publisher’s description follows: 

When Pope Francis recently answered “Who am I to judge?” when
asked about homosexuality, he ushered in a new era for the Catholic church. A decade ago, it would have been unthinkable for a pope to
express tolerance for homosexuality. Yet shifts of this kind are actually
common in the history of Christian groups. Within the United States, Christian leaders have regularly revised their teachings to match the beliefs and opinions gaining support among their members and larger society.

Mark A. Smith provocatively argues that religion is not nearly the unchanging conservative influence in American politics that we have come to think it is. In fact, in the long run, religion is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them. Smith makes his case by charting five contentious issues in America’s history: slavery, divorce, homosexuality, abortion, and women’s rights. For each, he shows how the political views of even the most conservative Christians evolved in the same direction as the rest of society—perhaps not as swiftly, but always on the same arc. During periods of cultural transition, Christian leaders do resist prevailing values and behaviors, but those same leaders inevitably acquiesce—often by reinterpreting the Bible—if their positions become no longer tenable. Secular ideas and influences thereby shape the ways Christians read and interpret their scriptures.

So powerful are the cultural and societal norms surrounding us that Christians in America today hold more in common morally and politically with their atheist neighbors than with the Christians of earlier centuries. In fact, the strongest predictors of people’s moral beliefs are not their religious commitments or lack thereof but rather when and where they were born. A thoroughly researched and ultimately hopeful book on the prospects for political harmony, Secular Faith demonstrates how, over the long run, boundaries of secular and religious cultures converge.