Constructing religion and religions in Asia

Authored by: Bryan S. Turner , Oscar Salemink

Routledge Handbook of Religions in Asia

Print publication date:  September  2014
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415635035
eBook ISBN: 9781315758534
Adobe ISBN: 9781317636465


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The study of ‘the religions of Asia’ has long fascinated Western scholars. This engagement with Asia can be dated from at least the early Jesuit missions to China and Japan, but the understanding of so-called ‘Asian religions’ became more pressing and urgent with the growth of Western colonial encounters with Asia in the middle of the nineteenth century. Although Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and British traders had been engaged in global trade for centuries, a critical turning point was in 1853 with the arrival of American warships off the coast of Japan as the US demanded not only trade arrangements but also ‘freedom of religion’, which was a notion foreign to Japanese culture (Josephson 2012). Whereas theological studies had long been at the heart of much academic learning in the West and beyond, the comparative study of religion from a scientific and comparative perspective emerged as an important aspect of Western scholarship in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Friedrich Max Müller, a founder of Religious Studies in Oxford, referred to his research as ‘the science of religion’ by which he meant the application of critical inspection to the phenomenon of religion. Müller was influential in Oriental scholarship through his translations of the Upanishads in 1884 and his editorship of the Sacred Books of the East that appeared in 50 volumes from 1879 to 1910 with Oxford University Press (Masuzawa 2005).

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