Rituals of the Dao
In “Rituals of the Dao” we trace the formation of Chinese civilization in the period that spans the late Neolithic and the Han dynasty. We will observe the emergence and development of cultural characteristics which – in the words of David Keightley – made China “Chinese,” as we focus our discussion on analyzing rich systems of ritual that played a central role in the lives of individuals and society in early China. We will follow historical changes in dominant ritual practices, as we study, as well, philosophical developments in conceptualizing such practices. Since differing conceptualizations of ritual underlie competing models of social order in early China, the discussion of ritual will take us to the very core of early Chinese efforts to establish the emotional, familial, religious, political and metaphysical foundations of competing social orders. We will see how ritual practice reflected – and shaped – attitudes, beliefs, values and emotions in early China, constructing by that relations between individuals and society, and between individuals and the world around them.
The history of China is being “re-written” in recent years in light of a wealth of new sources. These sources, many of which only recently discovered, force a re-evaluation of the study of early China. The students in the class will gain familiarity with the theoretical and methodological issues involved in using new materials for the study of early China, and will acquire the tools necessary for their preliminary reading. The course will discuss the following topics, focusing on the Zhou dynasty: Archaeology, burial practices, and gender; Ancestors worship and divination; The development of the Chinese writing system and the “composition” of early Chinese texts; Dialogue and competition between traditions of knowledge: philosophy, medicine, astrology, religion and magic.
The course will conclude with a take-home exam.